Adkins Arboretum Names Tulip Poplar 2011 Native Tree of the Year

Adkins Arboretum Names Tulip Poplar 2011 Native Tree of the Year


Tall and soaring, the native tulip poplar tree may be one of the great unsung heroes of the Delmarva Peninsula for its contributions both past and present—not only to the natural environment, but to the settlement of the New World. For these reasons and more, Liriodendron tulipifera has been selected as the first Adkins Arboretum Native Tree of the Year.

“The Arboretum is pleased to recognize the tulip poplar as the Adkins Arboretum Native Tree of the Year,” said Arboretum Nursery Manager Joanne Healey. “This is one of my favorite native trees because of its natural beauty. The tulip poplar is quite majestic. By recognizing such a tree and calling attention to it through the Adkins Arboretum Native Tree of the Year award, the Arboretum hopes to create new interest in native plants and trees.”

This native tree is actually a member of the magnolia family. The name comes from the tulip-like orange-and-yellow flowers that appear in May. These flowers eventually produce seed pods to contribute to the cycle of life. Each winter, the seeds provide food for small mammals, particularly the Eastern Fox Squirrel on Delmarva, and for birds, especially cardinals.

The wood itself is similar to white pine (a variety more commonly found in today’s lumber supply stores). The smooth, lightweight planks were historically in demand for organs, carriage panels, clapboard siding … and coffins. In Maryland, the trees were a main source of planks for tobacco barns well into the 20th century.

Tulip poplars prefer moist soil and generally grow in low-lying areas, often bordering wetlands. These long-lived trees (some of the oldest in Maryland have been documented to be nearly 400 years old) can soar to more than 100 feet tall. The first European settlers in the Chesapeake would have found groves of massive trees with trunks five feet or more in diameter.

When the famous pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone needed a boat to carry his family and supplies, he and his sons felled a mammoth tulip poplar. As recounted in Robert Morgan’s biography, Boone, the pioneer and his sons spent weeks hollowing out the tree to create a dugout canoe that was 60 feet long and capable of carrying five tons of cargo. Boone wasn’t the only settler to make use of dugout canoes. Historians say these massive tulip poplar trees were often put to such use, with typical canoes being able to carry up to 20 men on journeys through the wilderness.

These fast-growing trees are an excellent source of shade with all the hardiness and benefits of a tree native to the Delmarva Peninsula. Tulip poplar saplings may be obtained from the non-profit Adkins Arboretum Native Plant Nursery. For more information about the tulip poplar, Adkins Arboretum or native plants in general, visit

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Photo by Ann Rohlfing