The tulip tree was one of the first species to be brought from America to Europe, and with good reason; it must have made an enormous impression on Europeans in the 1600s, growing to 50m, producing large tulip-shaped yellow flowers and attractive large, lobed leaves.
The tulip tree is related to the magnolias, and its development dates back into ancient history. Fossils of the typical tulip leaf have been found in strata dating back 100 million years to the Cretaceous. The leaf’s middle lobe looks as if its tip has been cut off. The species flowers in early summer after the leaves open so the flowers are mainly hidden in the foliage. In autumn the colour is a glorious yellow-orange.
This species grows best on the slopes of the Allegheny Mountains in the US. In the north-western parts of its range winter conditions are rather like those in Finland. However, Finland is at the very extreme of its hardiness, so only a few shrubby individuals have survived in the long-term, in protected spots near the south coast. Provenance seems to have considerable importance for hardiness, but the hardier provenances are very difficult to obtain.