Tulip or magnolia or both.

Pippin with Liriodendron

Yesterday I talked with the dental hygienist Joan about hikes and trees and flowers. She asked, “Are you a plant person? Did you see the saucer magnolia trees across the street?” Oh, yes, I had seen those lovelies, smallish ones with their flowers opening so brightly pink.

“I have my camera and want to take their picture when I leave,” I said. But later with all my strolling about and photo-shooting I never got a good one of those Chinese Magnolias that people often mistakenly call Tulip Trees.

Chinese Magnolia

I told my friend when she took the pointy tools out of my mouth, “I had a real Tulip Tree in my yard once so I know that those are not really that.” She misunderstood, and said, “Oh, but tulip trees are magnolias.”

I explained that what I was talking about was nothing like what she was talking about, and promised to send her information when I got home. I also sent her this photo of Pippin as a young girl enjoying the blossoms and leaves of our tree, which we had planted a few years previous.

It was a fast grower and a joy to have around, shading the play fort and adding grace to the landscape. Here it is in the 80’s on the right behind the children.

Yard with Tulip Tree

But in researching the botanical name of our Tulip Tree, I discovered that is IS a member of the magnolia family (but it is not what Joan thought). Oh, my — crazy how confusing things get when humans try to classify the world formally and informally all at the same time.

In 2011 I planted tulip bulbs in the front yard (here where we have no trees with that name), and had a glorious display last spring. It looked as though they weren’t going to come up a second time; often tulips don’t last, in our climate, because it’s too warm and wet. This winter was cold and drier, and what do you know, there are little tulip leaves bravely poking through now. Perhaps in a month or so I’ll have another kind of tulip flower to write about.

10 thoughts on “Tulip or magnolia or both.

  1. Your post brought back a memory. When we lived in one of our first homes, our elderly neighbors, who hailed from the South, had a beautiful magnolia tree on their front lawn. The blooms were the size of dinner plates. It was lovely. They told us they had brought it with them from their former home to keep them from feeling homesick.


  2. When I went to google images and typed in “tulip tree bloom,” it gave me photos of both types! haha 🙂 20 years ago, in Mississippi, we planted what we called a Japanese magnolia tree, in honor of our daughter's birth. It was the pink kind you show above. Years later, I kept finding those orange/yellow blooms in our driveway; our neighbor had your tulip tree 🙂 Both very lovely.


  3. You know I never thought about all of the variety of tulips!!! I just asked my husband if all of the Chinese Magnolia's were blooming on his way to work. (yes) We had a Chinese Magnolia at our old house when the kids were small. I always enjoyed seeing it bloom in the spring. When I was a little girl my grand mother had a Tulip tree planted in her yard. I drive by it sometimes and it is now about 80 years old and it is huge.
    I don't plant tulips here because it just never gets cold enough.
    I love how different words mean the same thing. I liked your photos.


  4. Haha…yes, you are a true educator. Love the story and the tree. Very unusual, but I like the color and those large leaves. The sort of things I tell my hygenist…how horrible episiotomies are. (How I got on THAT subject I have no idea.) Her eyes kept getting bigger and bigger as I described this horror and then it dawned on me that her chubby tummy was a PREGNANT tummy. Oy.


  5. I've often wondered, as tulip trees have pretty blossoms, they are similar to magnolias…
    Cute picture of Pippin, with a few missing teeth, too. And how they grow fast (the trees and kids)!!! ♥


  6. Wonderful photos and neat information. The only thing I knew about the Tulip Poplar is that honey bees love them. We have several in our backyard and I'm sad that we lost all our bees.


  7. In New York City, we call what your hygienist thought was a Tulip Tree a Tulip Magnolia, while the liriodendron is called a Tulip Tree. They're both very common in the city.

    Now, having grown up in the Southern US, imagine my surprise (or how I smacked myself on the head and muttered, “Duh!”) when I got to Italy, saw gorgeous classic magnolias, and realized, “Of course! It's an Italian word!” It's just pronounced a little differently, because in Italian, “gn” sounds like the Spanish tilde–ma-NYOL-lia. There are a lot of other Southern US plants in northern Italy as well, all with Italian names: camellia, mimosa, etc. Live and learn!


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