The vegetable world can hardly offer a more interesting object, than a tree of exalted stature and extensive shade, covered with a beautiful and singular foliage, putting forth from its boughs an immense number of large and variegated flowers, at the same time that its trunk affords one of the most useful species of wood, and its bark an aromatic medicinal agent. Such an one is the Tulip tree of the United States.
The forests of the Middle and Western States, according to the representation of Michaux, abound with the Liriodendron tulipifera, as do likewise the elevated parts of Carolina and Georgia. It is found in the New England states, but is principally confined to the southern parts of them. Cultivated trees are common in Boston and its vicinity, but I have never met with it in the woods of this part of the country, nor to the north of it upon the sea board.
In point of size the Liriodendron is exceeded by few trees of the North American forest. Its growth is regular, straight and majestic. Its trunk often acquires a diameter of from two to three feet, and an elevation of eighty or ninety. In favourable situations it frequently exceeds these dimensions. Michaux measured a tree near Louisville in Kentucky, which at five feet from the ground was twenty two feet and an half in circumference, and which he estimated to be a hundred and twenty or a hundred and forty feet in height. Catesby informs us that the circumference is sometimes thirty feet.
The names of Tulip tree, White wood, Canoe wood, and Poplar are applied to this tree in different parts of the United States. Its flowering time is in the months of May and June.
The genus Liriodendron, to which Linnaeus has assigned four species of trees, is characterized by a double calyx, the outer of two, the inner of three leaves; petals six, seeds imbricated into a cone.
The species tulipifera, the only one in America, is remarkably distinguished by its lobed and truncated leaves.
Together with several other of our finest flowering trees and shrubs, the Liriodendron is found in the class Polyandria and order Polygynia, and the natural orders Coadunatae of Linnaeus and Magnoliae of Jussieu.
The branches of the Tulip tree are of a greyish colour inclining to red. The buds which terminate them in winter are very curiously constructed. They are obovate, and flattened or compressed into a sharp edge at the extremity. They are made up of a number of concentric sheaths, each of which contains a single miniature leaf between it and the next interior sheath. This leaf, instead of embracing the next sheath, is folded up and bent down upon one side of it. When vegetation begins in the spring the sheaths swell to a large size before bursting, and at length liberate the leaves one at a time, the remains of each sheath becoming converted into a stipule.
The leaves of the Tulip tree have a form altogether peculiar, and which is not resembled by any other production of our forests. They are divided into four pointed lobes and terminated by a shallow notch, the extremity being nearly square, and the middle rib ending abruptly, as if cut off. In the large leaves, the two lower lobes are furnished with a tooth or additional lobe on their outside. They are attached by long peduncles and have a beautifully smooth and bright green surface. There is one variety of this tree which has the lobes of its leaves not pointed, but very obtuse. The flowers are large, solitary, and terminal. The outer calyx has two triangular leaves which fall off as the flower expands. The inner calyx consists of three large, oval, concave, veined leaves, of a pale green colour, spreading at first, but afterwards reflexed. Petals six, sometimes more, obtuse, concave, veined, of a pale yellowish green, marked with an irregular, indented crescent of bright orange on both sides toward the base. Stamens numerous, with long linear anthers opening outwardly, and short filaments. Pistil a large, conical, acute body, its upper half covered with minute, blackish, recurved stigmas; its lower furrowed, being a mass of coalescing styles and germs. The fruit is a cone of imbricated seed vessels, which are woody and solid, their upper portion formed by a long lanceolate scale. Seeds two, blackish, ovate, one or both often abortive.
The bark of the Tulip tree has a very bitter taste and a strong aromatic pungency. The latter property appears to reside in a volatile oil. When the bark is distilled with water, it fills the apartment with its fragrant odour, yet the product of the distillation, at least when the process is conducted in the small way with the luting of the apparatus not perfectly tight, has scarcely any taste or smell. Dr. Rogers informs us that he obtained an oily matter in the form of a whitish scum on the surface of the water in the receiver. A bitter resin exists in small quantities in the bark. Water dissolves a mucous substance, which is precipitated in a flocculent form by alcohol. Water is also impregnated with the bitterness, and, if too much heat be not employed, with some of the aroma of the tree. The sulphate of iron produced a dark brown colour, but a solution of isinglass did not increase the chemical evidence of astringency, producing a barely perceptible effect. Alcohol and proof spirit may be considered the most perfect solvents of the active ingredients of tliis article, although water dissolves enough to produce its medicinal effect.
The bark both of the root and branches acts on the system as a stimulating tonic and diaphoretic, having properties resembling the Cascarilla and other aromatic barks of the shops. The disease in which it has been most employed is intermittent fever. But the triumph which results from the occasional cure of this disease is now divided among so large a list of tonic medicines, that the distinction conferred by it is not of the most signal kind. As a warm sudorific, this bark seems well adapted to the treatment of chronic rheumatism, and for this purpose it has been employed with success by various medical practitioners in the United States. In some diseases of an inflammatory type in which it has been recommended, its stimulating properties render it more like to do harm than good. The only personal acquaintance which I have had with it, is as a stomachic. Administered with this view, it has been acceptable and apparently useful to patients who had derived occasional benefit from "Huxham's tincture," "Stoughton's elixir," and similar compositions of bitter and aromatic drugs.
The wood of the Tulip tree is smooth and fine grained, very easily wrought and not liable to split. It is used for various kinds of carving and ornamental work, and for articles of house furniture. In the Western States where pine lumber is scarce, Michaux tells us, that the joinery or inside work of houses is most frequently of this material. A common use of it throughout the United States is in the manufacture of carriages to form the pannels of coach and chaise bodies. For this purpose it is particularly fitted by its smoothness, flexibility and toughness. [The various economical uses of this tree are treated of at large in the splendid work of the younger Michaux on the Forest trees of North America. Those who appreciate the value of a correct knowledge of the various internal resources of our country, will be gratified that a translation of this important work, with the original plates, is now publishing at Paris and Philadelphia.]
The true or heart wood of this tree is of a yellowish colour and differs in proportion in different trunks. We are told that two varieties of the tree exist, denominated the yellow and the white, and which appear to be in some measure produced by the mode and place of growth. The yellow variety is most valuable, having least alburnum and being less subject than the other to decay.
The Tulip tree has been long since introduced from this country into the forests and fields of Europe. Its use, ornamental appearance, and the facility with which it is raised, have rendered it one of the most prominent and interesting objects of forest cultivation.
Liriodendron tulipifera, Linnaeus, Sp. pl.
Curtis, Bot. Mag. t. 275.
Michaux, i. 526.
Michaux, Fil. Arbres forestiers, iii. 202.
Liriodendron foliis augulatis truncatis, Trew, Ehret, 2. t. 10.
Tulipifera virginiana &c.
Catesby, Car. i. t. 48.
Plukenet, t. 117. f. 5. &c.
Rush, Trans. Phil. Col. i. 183.
Bart. Coll. 14.
Clayton, Phil. Trans, abr. viii. 332.
Rogers, Inaugural dissertation, 1802.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.