Sunday, May 5, 2013

This is one BIG Tuliptree!

I've just returned from a week in southern West Virginia, where I helped to guide trips as part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival. I've mentioned this festival many times on this blog, as I've been part of this scene for about eight years now. The NRBNF takes place the last week of April/first week of May each year, and that's prime time in the West Virginia mountains. If you wish to experience a fabulous palette of birds and other fauna and flora, be sure to put this event on your calendar for 2014.
One of the places that I visited goes by the quirky name of Muddlety, in Nicholas County. It's WAY back through the mountains, and is an adventure to reach. We see lots of interesting birds, including Cerulean Warblers, along the way. But a definite highlight of this trip is paying homage to one of the biggest trees in the eastern U.S.
A sylvan behemoth towers over the crowd of lesser trees. Its companions are no slouches in the size department, but they cannot hold a candle to this wise old woodland sage. Perhaps, if spared the axe or ravages of strip mining, some of these other trees may one day - decades down the road - match this plant, which is the largest Tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera, in the state of West Virginia.

Part of our party clusters around the base of the Tuliptree. People are naturally drawn to this giant, and even though a slippery climb up a steep slope is required to reach the tree, many make the trek. I had not been here for a few years, and was pleased to see that the Tuliptree was in fine form.

This Tuliptree - often erroneously called a "tulip poplar" - has been known for a long time. Everything around it has been logged and strip-mined, but for some fortuitous reason the giant was spared. The impacts of the mining are fading, and the immediate vicinity is once again cloaked with trees. It may be that miners and loggers acknowledged the magnificence of this specimen, which would have been monstrous when lumbering and coal extraction was going hot and heavy decades ago.
Nine people ring the tree. That's about how many it takes to span its circumference. This Tuliptree was nominated to West Virginia's Big Tree Registry in 1977, taking the crown as the largest known specimen of Liriodendron tulipifera in the state. Other big ones have been found in the intervening three and a half decades, but none of them has eclipsed this tree.
Your narrator bonds with the tree. At about the level of my elbows, the tulip is 212 inches around, or 17.5 feet.

When I glanced upward, this is the perspective. The Tuliptree shoots 173 feet up into the ether. If you are familiar with the John McGraw Tower at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York - the structure that harbors the Cornell Chimes - this tree is the exact same height.

It's a long way up to reach the first branches. The crown spread is 82 feet, and those boughs have seen a lot of life over their centuries (?) of existence. One can only imagine what the tree's "yard list" of birds must be. Probably a huge chunk of all of the species that routinely perch in trees have spent time in this Tuliptree.

I was glad to once again make this Tuliptree's acquaintance, and certainly hope this is not the last time that I stand in her shadow.

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