My Best Friend, The Tree
As a volleyball player, a typical route I take around campus is from my dorm to the gym and back again. Though I am only a freshman, I have taken this route since early August. It is one from Mitty Hall, past Oliver Hall, past the Chapel, and up to McKeon Pavilion. On my way I always pass this tree that I think is the most beautiful one on campus. It is on the side of the Brother’s House nearest the Chapel. It’s specific location is hard to describe, but it is easily recognizable by its big, colorful, distinct leaves. (see figure 1)Subconsciously, I have been observing this tree almost every day. But today, I will make it my friend and observe it officially!
The first thing I did with my new friend was observe it. Its most admirable factor is its leaves, so I started first with those. It is obviously deciduous, since in November its leaves are turning from green to yellow and some are falling off entirely. The leaves grow off the branches in a whorled and noded fashion, neither alternating nor pairing, but simply growing in ‘circular clumps.’ The leaves are palmately lobed, entire, and somewhere between a round shape and a triangular shape. Honestly, the uniqueness of the leaves are indescribable, making them the center of the tree’s beauty (see figure 2). I considered, that even though leaves are generally not deciding factors in tree identifications, mine is surely and exception due to their uniqueness.
Besides leaves, the tree has a singular trunk with light colored grey bark. (see figure 3)It grows pretty erect, has an open crown, but not necessarily a general shape to its entirety. There were no buds on the tree that I was able to observe, but I also took into account that fact that it is currently November and possibly any flowers that it might have had would not be visible at this time.
I began with the notion that my tree could possibly not be native to California, but nevertheless used my Trees and Shrubs of California book to begin. The closest I came to identifying my tree was to classify it as a Maple. However, none of the Maple’s had leaves similar to mine. Though they were leaves that were palmately lobed, triangular, entire, and grew in whorled nodes, all of them had pointed star like lobes, whereas my tree’s leaves had almost a tulip like shape with rounded and smooth lobes. I therefore looked up all Maple leaves, not just those native to California. A looked up identification charts and Latin names of trees. I stumbled across this chart with my tree’s leaf on it (http://leaf-identification.treephotoss.com/identify-maple-trees/) (see figure 4).
I looked at the picture and saw that it was called the Tulip Tree, or in Latin, Liriodendron tulipifera. With this name, I came across a website on these tulip trees(http://treesandshrubs.about.com/od/commontrees/p/TulipTree.htm). The website continued to describe similar leaves, like those of maple, but also gave attribution to the rare “tulip shape” to the leaves, something that the classification of Maple was lacking. However, the term tulip tree obviously suggests that the tree has tulips. My tree had no flowers of any kind. But to my luck, the website also said that, “The flowers are 2-3″ long and also shaped like a tulip. The petals are yellow-green, with the center being an orange color. Blooming time is May-June. The tree may take 15 years or more before flowers appear.” I realized that if the tree did have flowers, they would only be seen during those seasons and only then if the tree was old enough.
After going through this exciting search, I have concluded that my tree is probably not native, but is a Tulip Tree. Tulip Trees are generally very large, ranging from 80-100 feet tall and almost forty feet wide. Though my tree is not that size, it could still be a younger tree. They grow on the East Coast generally, but are easily planted anywhere else (like this campus.) Though my conclusion is mainly based on its unique leaf-shape, it was my best conclusion that I could come to since it is not native. Either way, I enjoyed the process of identification and how it lead me from one hunch to the next. I now walk past the Tulip Tree on my way to volleyball with a sense of pride knowing that I took the time to try and classify it and be its friend!