TULIP POPLARS IN DEERING

Deering residents compiled a list of the biggest trees in town in 1980 and 1985.   The list was compiled well before the era of Global Positioning, and the locations given for individual trees were imprecise.  Refinding the trees included in that list after 35 or so years has been a real challenge. However a few of the trees were recorded from cemeteries, and that considerably narrows the search range.   I found big tulip poplars at the north end of the Appleton Cemetery at the entry to Deering on Deering Center Rd.

Tulip poplar,  Liriodendron tulipifera, is one of the tallest trees found in eastern North America. On average these trees reach 70 to 100 ft, but occasional trees grow to 190 ft tall.  Here in Deering we have two amazing tulip poplar trees, both in Appleton Cemetery, and both readily visible from Deering Center Rd at the north end of the cemetery.  One of the trees is about 140 ft tall; the circumference of its trunk at 4 ft is 122″ and its diameter is 39″.  In 1985 the circumference of this tree was 90″ and its diameter was 29″. Thus it’s increased by by about 10″ in diameter over the past 33 years. This tree has a single, straight trunk that is unbranched for almost half of the tree’s height. The trunk remains distinct and straight for the entire height of the tree, with large branches  arising at right angles along the length of the trunk. The second tulip poplar is not  as tall, but it has three trunks that seem to have a common origin, although they are not conjoined at the base.  Like the single trunk tree, these three trunks are also unbranched for a considerable distance, and then branches arise at right angles to the trunk. Each has a circumference at 4 ft of about 90″, thus they are very large trees as well.  The architecture of these trees is stunning once the leaves have fallen.

Distinctively shaped leaves of tulip poplar

Tulip poplar is native to eastern North America, extending west to the Mississippi River and Ontario, but  it is rare in New England. Large trees are common in the eastern Smoky Mts, as are the related Magnolias. The name ‘tulip poplar’ may come from the peculiarly shaped leaves, which resemble a tulip flower.   Although Liriodendron is not related to poplar, like poplar the leaves of tulip poplar are brilliant yellow in autumn. Unlike most trees, flowers of tulip tree are conspicuous, quite  large, and vaguely tulips. Here in the north the tree flowers late spring into June.  Liriodendron is one of a few genera in the primitive plant family Magnoliaceae, which includes Magnolia species – – trees with equally showy flowers.

Tulip poplar is commonly sold as a horticultural plant and I know of two trees in Deering that have been planted within the past ten years. The trees in the Appleton Cemetery were planted a long time ago! Just how long is difficult to tell. The Appleton Cemetery is Deering oldest and largest burial ground, established in 1809. I have not seen records concerning the planting of trees in the Appleton Cemetery,  but by comparing our tulip poplars with trees with a known history it might be possible to estimate the age of our trees.

There is a wonderful ‘grand allée’ of tulip poplars leading to the museum building of the New York Botanical Garden. The several trees that form the two rows of the Garden’s grand allée  are similar in size to the Deering trees.  They were planted as  ten-year-old seedlings in 1903, and five years ago they were around 90 ft tall and the diameter of the trunk was 33″.

Based on their size differences, Deering’s trees might be  older. Our trees are bigger than those in the Bronx, while growing under  somewhat colder climatic conditions than found there. If the trunk increased in diameter at a constant rate, and over the past 33 years it added 10 ” in diameter,  our trees could have been planted around the time of the Civil War. While the graves closest to the trees date from early 20th Century, there is sufficient space between them and the bases of the trees to suggest that the trees were present when those graves were dug, maybe marking the northern boundary of the cemetery. The oldest graves in the cemetery are some distance from these trees.

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