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ORRIN MORRIS: Tuliptree one of the most important of Southern hardwoods

The ancient poet/singer who wrote Psalm 145:5 sets an appropriate example for us to praise God for His loving gifts. It reads, "I will speak of the glorious honor of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works" (Psalm 145:5 ).

Truly, our wild flower for today fits the category of His wondrous works.

There are wildflowers and there are wild flowers. The subject for this column, the tulip tree, is in the latter category.TULIP TREE

Liriodendron tulipiferoSeveral years ago, one of my students brought a bloom from the tulip tree to class. She was fascinated by the shape and color of the flower and wanted to draw it. As she studied the shapes, colors and textures of the various parts, she decided to draw the less complicated image assigned to that day's class project.

This was an interesting learning experience for my student because she learned much about this wonder of the natural world. Furthermore, she learned more about herself.

That specific day she could not handle the challenge, but one day she would. Because of the gleam in her eye, I'm confident that as she grows and develops her ability, this marvelous blossom will adorn her portfolio.

The heading on this column once read "a survey of wildflowers" and like the dogwood, wild cherry, graybeard, mimosa and plum, the bloom is on a tree. Rarely do these other trees grow beyond 30 feet, but the tulip tree reaches skyward to as high as 100 feet. Its bloom is so unique that several of my friends have urged me to include it in the series.

The tulip tree bloom measures from 2 to 3 inches wide and about that deep. It is cup-shaped with three greenish-white sepals (the structure that protects the bud then folds outward when the bloom matures). There are six petals that form two rows.

Note the unique color scheme: pale yellow petals tinted green with large splashes of bright orange midway between the base and tip of the petal.

There are many stamens and many pistils spiraling around a spike-like receptacle, as pictured.

Tulip trees, also known as yellow poplars, thrive in wooded areas where the soil is moist but well-drained. In drought conditions, the root system extends deeper, seeking underground water sources. After a drought, rains will bring most ponds and lakes to full capacity, but the underground aquifers take many months to recharge.

The leaves are as broad as they are long, measuring 5 to 8 inches. Note the distinct shape in the illustration.

For centuries, the tulip tree has been one of the most important of the Southern hardwoods. The wood is comparatively soft and thus easy to carve and shape. The American Indians of the Middle Atlantic states used it in making dugout canoes. The furniture industry still uses it, but sparingly compared to the 19th century practices.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers.