Celebrating trees: This Tulip Poplar believed to be the largest in Metro Parks system

Poplar Tree
The tulip poplar tree is believed to be more than 130 feet tall and is 16.5 feet in circumference.

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Trees are really interesting creatures.  Like humans and animals, trees are shaped by genetics and environment. Genetic variations in the same species of a tree produces trees with differing shapes and branch structure, or maybe even more pronounced colors in the spring and fall.

Like all living creatures, trees live, they grow and they die.  Unlike humans and animals though, many species of trees can live much longer lives.

On a recent tour off the beaten path deep into Iroquois Park, Mike Blankenship, a Forestry Manager with Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation, provided a close-up of what is believed to be the largest tree in all of our 120 parks.

Standing approximately 120-130 ft. tall and 16 ft. 5 in. in circumference, this Tulip Poplar is approximately 100-150 years old.

The tulip poplar (also called tulip tree) is actually more closely related to magnolia than either a tulip or a poplar. The reference to tulips comes from the shape of the greenish yellow and orange flowers.  Other names include: Canoewood, Saddle-Leaf tree, and White Wood.  Canoewood refers to the tree’s use for construction of dug out canoes by eastern Native Americans, for which its fine grain and large trunk size is eminently suited.

American frontiersmen and Daniel Boone reportedly traveled with his family into the wilderness in a 60-foot-long tulip tree canoe during his exploration and later settlement of Kentucky.

Tulip poplar is one of the tallest of the native American hardwoods. Kentucky was home to some of the most magnificent of these stately trees. The Tulip Poplar tree is currently the state tree of Kentucky. The Kentucky Champion Tulip Poplar is 168 ft. tall and more than 18 ft. in circumference.  It’s located in Beaver Creek (McCreary County).

mike
Mike Blankenship

Blankenship, who has worked for Metro Parks & Recreation for 17 years, is a second generation forestry employee.

Mike’s dad spent 31 years in the department prior to Mike’s tenure.

“My father brought me out here when I was a teenager.  Back then there were three of these big trees,” said Blankenship.  “We are now down to one.”

 Iroquois Park is the first of the three flagship parks (Cherokee and Shawnee are the other two).  Acquired in 1888, Iroquois sprawls over 725 acres south of the city.  Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned a scenic reservation on this rugged, steep, and heavily wooded hillside covered with old growth forest.

Uppill Road and other paths/trails were designed to dramatize the forested landscape and provide panoramic and scenic vistas of the land below and beyond.  According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Iroquois Park is joined only by Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada, as parks designed by Olmsted with a mountainous topography.

Don’t forget, during the month of April, Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation is celebrating trees! Find out how to get your free Tree Identification Poster at the link here.

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