A Remarkable tulip-poplar

Tree Information
Common Name: tulip-poplar
Scientific name: Liriodendron tulipifera
Category: Historic tree
Notes: Editor's note: this tree was removed from the grounds at Monticello in June, 2008. It can still be enjoyed as a play structure at a park at the base of the mountain. The older, "original" tulip poplar off the southwest corner of Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is one of the grandest specimens of its kind. In terms of age (200 years old), size (over 120', trunk circumference, 22', trunk diameter, 84") symmetry, vigor, and historical association this is one of the world's great trees. Thomas Jefferson loved trees. Visitors to Monticello were often given tours of what one person described as "Mr. Jefferson's pet trees." Jefferson planted allees of trees along his Roundabout road system, designed an ornamental forest, the Grove, and organized "clumps" of tree plantings around the house at Monticello. He documented the planting of some 140 species of both native and exotic shade and ornamental trees. When serving as Secretary of State in 1793 he wrote from Philadelphia to his daughter, Martha, "what would I give for the trees around the house at Monticello to be full grown." Jefferson's commitment to tree preservation were expressed by a friend, Margaret Bayard Smith, who quoted Jefferson from a Washington dinner party: "I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, the beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor. The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder." Thomas Jefferson had an uncommon interest in the natural productions of North America. His only published work, Notes on the State of Virginia, refuted the claims of European scientists that American plants, animals, and native peoples were inherently inferior to those of Europe. As Minister to France, he was constantly passing out seeds and plants of North American trees as proud expressions of the glories of our native forests. He described the tulip poplar as "the Juno of our Groves," and endowed this tallest-growing of all eastern American trees with a sacred quality. In his Weather Memorandum Book on April 16, 1807, Jefferson noted planting "1. Laurodendron in margin of SW [shrub circle] from the nursery." We assume this is the extant "soutwest" tulip poplar: Jefferson's "margin of SW shrub circle" corresponds to the tree's current location, and "Laurodendron" is surely a corruption of Liriodendron. Although we don't know for sure that it is original, the massive size of this tulip poplar goes a long way in confirming the documentary record of its planting. The "southwest" tulip poplar is a beautiful tree. The form of the tree is especially expressive: the major limbs reach for the sky like some massive hand. It's a defiant tree, withstanding years of neglect, mountain-top storms, lashing hurricanes, debilitating ice storms, searing droughts, and both the compaction of trampling feet and the armed embrace of thousands of Monticello visitors over the last 200 years. In 2000 the American the Beautiful Fund, part of the White House Millennium Council, designated this tulip poplar as a "Millenium Landmark Tree." The tree's association with Monticello, the only home in the United States designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, and with Thomas Jefferson, whose garden legacy inspires perpetual generations of horticulturists and naturalists alike, are gripping arguments for including it among "Virginia's Remarkable Trees."
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Nominator: Peter Hatch
Location of Tree
County/City: Albemarle
Name of tree owner: Thomas Jefferson Foundation
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