NOTE: Not "tulip poplar" or "yellow poplar", which are oft-used misnomers for this plant, especially in forestry circles. It's a magnolia - a distant relative of the Salicaceae family, which includes real poplars such as cottonwoods, aspen, poplars and willows.
Now that the nomenclatural theatrics are over, back to the tuliptree, which is the main protagonist of this story. For weeks now, I've been hearing stories about sticky sap raining down from the forest canopy, and more than a few people have been flummoxed as to its origin. So prolific are these viscous secretions that woodland explorers would return coated in with the substance, as if sprayed by a giant mace can full of maple syrup. The gluey stuff provides a nice veneer to which dust, plant bits, and about anything else small enough to drift about can stick fast. Hikers would return from journeys looking like Pigpen.
Bob Placier first tipped me to the cause of the arboreal glue, and shortly after that Dennis Profant posted one of his typically informative essays about this phenomenon on his excellent blog.
HERE and HERE.
I haven't heard a good explanation for this year's massive outbreak of tuliptree scale, although the scale of this year's scales is beyond what anyone I know can recall. Perhaps unseasonably warm winter and early spring weather helped them to survive in greater than normal numbers.
There are always exploiters, and in the case of tuliptree scales the winners are certain ants, beetle larvae, wasps, and perhaps other insects that either feed directly on the scales, sip the sweet honeydew, or prey on the aforementioned. If you are a human, and spend a lot of time in forests dense with tuliptrees, you probably will not consider yourself a beneficiary of tuliptree scales.