Dulwich has many fine and interesting trees and one, which is perhaps at its best in the autumn, is the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipefera) with its splendid golden fall colour and majestic size. There are several specimens growing locally but none of the size of the one in College Road opposite Dulwich Picture Gallery.
The flowers, for which it is named, are pale yellow cup shaped with a green edge about 5cm across but they are rather hidden by the dense shiny green leaves. These, however, are unique, resembling those of a Plane tree but with the tips squared off; a shape shared by only one other tree, the closely related Chinese Tulip Tree which is very rare in Britain.
It is a native of Eastern and Central North America and was brought to England about 1650 by John Tradescant the younger and grown in his Lambeth garden. It was admired by John Evelyn, the diarist, who also had a garden nearby and who did so much to popularise the making of parks and gardens.
Our tree has had many names; John Tradescant called it Tradescant Virgianian White Poplar and although it is not related to Poplars the wood is still called Yellow Poplar in the timber trade today. The heartwood is often a clear pale yellow of fine quality and is used for cabinet making and construction, being easy to work and very stable. Linnaeus settled the naming problem by giving it a generic name Liriodendron (Lerio-lily and dendron – tree) and Tulipifera (tulip-like) for its specific name.
Some other trees from the same part of America were also collected by John Tradescant. Among these were the Red, Scarlet and Pin Oaks and the Swamp Cypress (Bald Cypress to the Americans), the dominant tree of the Florida Everglades.
As you will have read above, our Tulip Tree is in the news for another reason, having been root-pruned this summer to protect the adjacent property from any possible encroachment by its root system. It is being carefully monitored by the Dulwich Society Trees Group to see if any setbacks are experienced by the tree itself. It is an important feature in the Village landscape and would take many years to replace.