Connections: Old Glory

    At some point in the run-up to Irene we thought the hurricane might make landfall here in the small hours of the morning, and I was quite worried about what might happen — while we were sleeping — to the huge, old tulip tree in our side yard. In 2007, our favorite tree was estimated as 104 feet tall and as having a spread of about 70 feet. At the time, we also learned it was already in decline, or “overmature.”
    I thought about moving the computers and printer and even the wall of books that could have been in jeopardy if one of the tulip’s heavy branches fell on the house. When we learned the worst of Irene wasn’t due till after daylight Sunday, I relaxed. The tree might not weather the storm, but at least I wouldn’t be crushed in my bed.
    I wish I knew how old the tulip, Liriodendron tulipfera, is. It’s very old, but not as old, apparently, as a tulip in Queens that is said to have stood for 350 to 450 years. I can’t venture a guess, but the Queens one is apparently only 30 feet taller than ours.
    And our tulip has stood fast through many a hurricane.
    Trees as old as these must be horticulturally adapted to weather storms. The Queens tulip goes back to the 17th century, for goodness’ sake, and, although I’m not the best Web researcher, Atlantic tropical cyclones are estimated to have claimed as many as a half-million human lives between Columbus’s arrival in the New World and 1994 (and no one was counting Spaniards at sea, slaves, and Native Americans in those earlier centuries).
    At any rate, our tulip stood its ground admirably during Irene. The same cannot be said for a nearby locust that swayed sideways for hours, then came down, or another tree that fell off its apparently rotted roots at about 6 a.m. Sunday, before the winds had even reached maximum speed. That one crashed down all across the patio, barely missing the roof over my bedroom and the sun porch windows.
    Because our tulip tree shares the property line with the East Hampton Library, it is a quasi-public behemoth, worth taking a look at.  Four years ago, it was estimated to have a diameter at breast height of between 74 and 80 inches, although the expert who studied it noted the tool he used to measure diameter “doesn’t account for such a big tree.”
    Dennis Fabiszak, the library director, and I took a walk around the tulip on Tuesday with the library’s own tree man, who said it needed some pruning and cabling, in addition to repair of the small breaks wrought by the storm. The tree is worthy of tender loving care, to be sure.
    The library had been looking after  another oldie, a multi-stemmed white mulberry just a few yards from the tulip, which also had been studied by the visiting expert in 2007. Like the tulip, it was big for its species, with a height of 40 feet, a spread of 50 feet, and a diameter at breast height of 30 inches. Unlike the tulip, much of it was decayed, and Irene managed to take down one of its powerful limbs. By Tuesday afternoon, the downed branch had been cut into chunks.
    Mulberries are not considered valuable landscape trees, although the library’s mulberry was a beauty. On the other hand, tulip trees, which are also known as tulip poplars, are coveted. Their yellow flowers are large and pretty, resembling tulips, at least a little. They self-seed, and, as a matter of fact, I know of a seedling about 12 inches high that looks promising. If you would like to nurture it, let me know.