Coming soon to a tulip tree near you!
When I tell northerners that I built my house almost entirely of poplar, including the framing, rafters, interior paneling and exterior siding, they seem confused. When I go on to say that there are a lot of old log cabins in the southern Appalachian Mountains built from poplar logs, they look at me like I’m crazy.
I soon found out that to a northerner the word “poplar” refers to aspens and other related trees whose wood is light, soft and virtually useless for house construction. After a bit more discussion, we would finally get our terminology straightened out and I’d get the response, “Oh, you mean ‘tulip tree.’”
Yes, this magnificent tree has many names and even more uses. It is not a true poplar but was so named because its leaves are attached to its branches by long petioles, or leafstems, that allow the leaves to flutter in the breeze in a manner not unlike that of a quaking aspen.
Tulip poplar is actually in the Magnolia family. Its scientific name, Liriodendron tulipifera, translates as something like, “tulip-bearing lily tree.” This is a great name for the tree because its flowers look like a combination of a tulip and a lily. They are a light greenish yellow and each of the six petals has a blaze of orange at its base.
A large tulip poplar lit up with hundreds of large cup-like blooms in spring is a magnificent sight indeed. The flowering of these trees is very important to beekeepers. It is one of the most dependable sources of nectar in the Southeast. The yield of nectar per bloom is possibly the highest of any plant on the continent and has been calculated at an average of 1.64 grams per flower (that’s about one third of a teaspoon). During a favorable season, the nectar is secreted so abundantly that honey bees and other insects cannot carry it away as fast as it appears. Sometimes you can stand under a blooming tulip tree in a light breeze and feel the nectar dripping down like a gentle, sticky rain. (People who park their shiny new cars under tulip trees often complain about this.) Because the bloom comes early in the season, many honey bee colonies are not strong enough to fully utilize the abundance. For strong hives, however, harvests of 100 pounds of honey per hive have been recorded during just the three-week poplar bloom. The honey is dark in color and is sometimes called “black poplar honey”. When held up to the light, however, it can be seen that it is actually a deep amber-red in color. Though it is not as light as locust honey or as sought after as sourwood honey, it has a rich full-bodied flavor that can be used to sweeten fruit salads, yogurt, tea and other beverages. It goes great on pancakes, waffles, cereal, biscuits, cornbread, and other baked goods. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t eat some.
If you want the ultimate tulip poplar nectar tasting experience, you can sip it straight from the flower like the bees do. To do this, you need to find a freshly opened blossom within reach. Pick or lower the blossom carefully without jostling it. Then lick the droplets on the inside of the petals, and taste that ambrosia! Sometimes the nectar collects in a puddle on one of the lower sepals. If the air has been warm and dry, the nectar will often be thick like syrup. After one taste, you will know you have imbibed the nectar of the gods!
Many wild critters take advantage of the tulip poplar nectar. Along with the multitudes of insects, I have seen hummingbirds and orioles sipping the nectar. A friend was on a cliff in West Virginia in late May looking out over the canopy of the forest when he noticed movements in the crown of a distant tulip tree. It was a bear up in the tree bending in the flowering branches and slurping the nectar. Often you will see hundreds of cut up petals on the ground under flowering tulip trees. These are the remains of the squirrels’ treetop slurp fest. They’ve been up there partying–sipping nectar, chomping flowers, and running around on a sugar high!
It’s a good season for all of us to get outside and run around. Join the squirrels, the bears, the bugs, the birds, the bees and me on the Great Tulip Poplar Slurp Fest! Coming soon to a tulip tree near you.
How ‘bout them flower slurpers; ain’t they a panic,
Slurping them flowers and acting romantic,
If you wanna be a flower slurper, you don’t need to burp it,
Just find yourself a flower and haul off and slurp it!
Head Over to DougElliott.com for The Spring Sale–Still Going On–More Items:
Stories, Lore, and Truth Stranger Than Fiction about the Natural World
A 75 page whimsical, homemade, soft-cover book
Along with detailed instructions about how to make a tulip poplar basket, Elliott “covers a variety of topics including ‘possums, old-timey apples, ramps, orchids, bears, ginseng, millipedes roadkills and more…There’s little rhyme or reason to this book. Its topics are as varied and as far flung as Elliott’s wandering mind. But Doug has a unique and deep perspective on the world, and seeing it through his eyes is always educational and fun. This book is wonderful collection, full of woods sense, common sense and more.” –David Wheeler
Half-price sale (slightly water rumpled copies) Normally $12 — NOW only $6
Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book — There’s lots more about locust trees, tulip poplar trees, and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15
An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Half-price Sale Normally $20 — NOW only $10
Thanks to Todd Elliott for the use of two of his photos. To see more check out his website. toddelliott.weebly.com
You might also enjoy checking out my 8-minute NC-TV video celebrating the tulip poplar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7WdKjeNx0w