Tulip Poplar blooms at Independence Historical Park

Next to Carpenters Hall and near Independence Hall the flowers of the Liriodendron tulipifera were to be found on the ground.

The petals

 The flower is about the size and shape of a tulip and has beautiful orange, green and yellow coloring.

Often the only way to see the flower is if it falls to the ground because the tree is so tall!


American expats lounging about in Parisian gardens. They live rent-free just because they are unique and exotic Americans. The Parisians lust for them and they show off their prized Americans every chance they can.  The Americans feel perfectly content and justified in their exalted status here in France. They are not treated as well in America. They are often brushed to the side in favor of some Asian ornamental plant.

Virginia Creeper in Paris, France
Virginia Creeper in Paris, France

Parthenocissus quinquefoilia

This American vine has got the best apartment in town, with the best view.  All because it has a beautiful fall color, a deep crimson red, and exotic blue berries on a red stem.  It is a great ground cover as well, not to mention its attractive leaves which are highly ornamental. This is a loved American vine in Paris.

Virginia Creeper in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-Sus-Bois, France
Virginia Creeper in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-Sous-Bois, France

The above pictured Virginia creeper is often brushed aside while the Parisian native vine English Ivy, Hedera helix,  gets the hot real estate in Philadelphia.

As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Tulip Poplar in Paris, France
Tulip Poplar in Paris, France

Liriodendron tulipifera

The Parisians love this fast growing very straight and tall American tree with orange and green tulip shaped and sized flowers.  It is easy to see from the French perspective that if well-placed, our Tulip Poplar could be an excellent specimen tree.  In this location, there are no buildings that will be damaged from the branches that will inevitably break off in the future.

It was so much fun to see our Tulip Poplar being celebrated in Paris.


Trumpet creeper vine in the Paris suburb Le Raincy
Trumpet creeper vine in the Paris suburb Le Raincy

Campsis radicans

This vine is so common throughout Paris and the south of France that it could be misinterpreted as a native very easily.  The Campsis radicans vine speaks French with a perfect accent for every region of the country it is grown. It has been introduced and cultivated in France since the 1700s.  There are even cultivars of this vine that were originated in Europe!    It is loved in France and it loves France!  In the south of France, there are old vines with stems six inches in diameter!

A botanical Francophile to be sure. We did not see any evidence of it escaping cultivation or becoming invasive either.  (but then again, who knows what will happen in the bigger picture).

With all of the fanfare and the hype around this plant in France, we cannot ignore the bright red tubular shape of the flower, designed in the process of evolution for the pollinating Hummingbird, a bird that is found only in North America. This is a botanical feature of the plant that is a dead give-away of its North American nativity.

Trumpet creeper vine in the Paris suburb Le Raincy
Trumpet creeper vine in the Paris suburb Le Raincy

As a garden ornamental, the Americans are not very enthusiastic about the Trumpet vine.  ( if we are wrong on this in a regional context, please speak up, we want to know the truth).  The fact that the French love this plant is somewhat endearing, however we remain skeptical because it  is not a native plant to this part of the world.  It could still become invasive.

Sweetgum in the Paris suburb Le Raincy
Sweetgum in the Paris suburb Le Raincy

The above picture is the Sweetgum. here it is being proudly displayed as an ornamental in the distinguished Paris suburb of Le Raincy. We ran across this tree in our adventures. We had taken the Parisian commuter train called the RER to the train station of Le Raincy, a town we had been to many times, the home of Isabelle’s brother. However we had never arrived in Le Raincy from the RER before, and we immediately were lost. We were invited for dinner and we wanted to be on time so there would be no waiting or associated anxieties.   We get off the train at the station and we find ourselves in a part of town unfamiliar to us, but full of great architecture.

But now we were even more  lost.  A  kind 70+ year  longtime resident of Le Raincy directed us in the right direction and even walked with us for 10 blocks  until she tired.  She sent us toward our destination in this magnificent suburb just east of Paris. We felt so welcome.

Homes in Le Raincy France
Homes in Le Raincy France

We were still lost and it was getting late.  Dinner was in just five minutes!  We viewed and photographed the Campsis radicans, the American trumpet vine along the way, and we stopped at a Jewish grocery and bought a bottle of kosher Bordeaux.

Now, we were still lost and completely on our own to find the right street.  Isabelle saw the American Sweetgum, liquidamber stryaciflua, in the  planted -up median between the tram and the street.  (Now we were in familiar territory, because we know this tram line quite well).

 If Sean sees this we will be sidetracked and even more late. He will want to take pictures, inspect the leaves, the bark, the fruits- I know this tree just from a glance.

It was getting dark and we were now running late for dinner and still officially lost, despite finding our familiar tram line.   However, the American Sweetgum was planted all along the roadway, between the tram tracks and the automobile road.

Sean finally noticed the American sweetgum and immediately stopped in his tracks.

Isabelle! Stop!


Pointing emphatically.  Isnt this the Liqiuidamber stryaciflua?  The Sweetgum?

Yes, I believe it is. Said Isabelle.

The picture was taken and the fruit was observed in haste and within minutes we found ourselves in familiar territory, finding the street Isabelle’s brother lives on. Only five minutes late!  Just long enough to identify an American plant in France.

So there we have it, The French love our Liqiudamber stryaciflua, the Sweetgum.

Pokeweed in Paris, France
Pokeweed in Paris, France

Phytolacca Americana

The Pokeweed is as American as Ben Franklin, our most famous American in Paris. It has been introduced in Europe for so long that it is found throughout the continent.

The dark juice from its berries has be reportedly used as ink to write drafts of the Declaration of Independence. Ben Franklin was a printer and must have known about this plant.

Pokeweed is found throughout  France, along the railroad tracks, in gardens as weeds and in cultivation.

This plant more than any other, is a living articulation of the long and detailed history between France and the United States of America.

Staghorn Sumac in the Paris suburb of Bussy-St-George
Staghorn Sumac in the Paris suburb of Bussy-St-George

Rhus typhina

The French have fully embraced our Staghorn sumac as an ornamental.  It is everywhere.  This is a great large shrub that is almost completely ignored in America.  It is left on the side of the road as a weed. From time to time it is found in an ornamental position in the States.  In Philadelphia it has been brought into cultivation as an ornamental along the new Schuylkill River Park in Center City.  It is great to ride bikes or walk along this section of the river and see the magnificent specimens of Staghorn Sumac being presented as ornamental beauties, only to cross the river at the Art Museum and see them growing as uninvited weeds along West River Drive, just a few paces away!

Staghorn Sumac in the Paris suburb of Bussy-St-George
Staghorn Sumac in the Paris suburb of Bussy-St-George

It is somewhat amusing to see plants that Americans dismiss in favor of Asian ornamentals being exalted in Europe.  However it’s the same story on the other side of the pond.  There was a point in time when having a unique and different plant in your yard was a sign of status, and this boosted the importation of  foreign plants. This practice has been carried to such an extreme that it is almost expected to have foreign plants in your yard, so much so that fines are being exacted upon those that grow native plants!

The cultural aesthetic of landscaping is dominated by plants that may look pretty in our yards, but can become severe pests in the natural areas we live amidst, and we are seeing this pattern unravel in France .

For the most part at this time, most of the invasives in France are Asian ornamentals that have behaved for a few years and then have suddenly gone berzerk, like the Butterfly bush or the Tree- of -Heaven.

Our native  plants introduced in France, in the bigger picture, are at risk of becoming the next ugly Americans.


Groundhog Day Storm: Dogwood Sapling Broken in Half in Morris Park

The Tulip Poplar at the end of the block drops another branch

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a tall and majestic tree with beautiful green and orange tulip- like flowers that is best enjoyed a safe distance from any property.  This fast-growing native tree has the best chance of rebuilding the forest canopy in now blighted sections of Morris Park. We were surprised to see a specimen at the Mt Cuba Center that was at least 25 feet tall and had a decent girth, that was planted only 12 years ago. It was planted after an older tree had fallen, opening up a hole in the canopy that would have created a problematic situation for their piedmont woodland garden.  The Tulip poplar, a pioneer species in forest regeneration, provided the shade and dappled light needed by woodland beauties such as bluebells (Mertensia virginiana)  and the many species of Trillium represented at Mt Cuba Center.

In Morris Park , we have no need to plant Tulip Poplar in the canopy holes.  All we do is remove the invasives, and one will start growing on its own.  In fact we have to weed them out of our garden all the time.  The best ones we transplant deeper in the park in blighted areas, so they get an early start, before we have the chance to remove the invasives.

Some of the finest Tulip Poplar specimens we have ever seen can be found in the Wissahickon Valley gorge, a section Of Fairmount Park right here in Philadelphia. These trees are gigantic, with very wide and straight trunks, towering into the forest.  Just walk along the Forbidden Drive and look up the hill, on the west side of the road, all along the route and they can be seen, often growing in the small ravines that spill into the Wissahickon.

The Tulip Poplar branch

Here we have only touched upon the many redeeming qualities of the Tulip Poplar, and there is much more to expound upon concerning its place in the forest and its attributes that make for a great and magnificent forest tree.  However, it does have a bit of a habit that can be troublesome if one is located too close to something that is best not crushed on a yearly basis. The wood is soft and and the branches easily dismount and will careen towards your most valued objects if they are near the tree.  The branch will make a loud cracking sound first, giving a warning to all that will heed the call. Weather is not always the only thing that will make it fall. A bit of rot on one part of the branch can make it fall anytime.

A word of warning: Listening to ones I-pod while in the forest is not recommended. The forest is the kind of place where all of ones senses should be  alert, especially in the city. Not long ago a young woman was found dead in the Wissahickon, with a large tree branch on top of her. Her i-pod was still playing music when they found her.  We often wonder if she could’ve reacted more appropriately if she was able to hear the branch cracking, before it crashed down.

Also, climbing a Tulip Poplar is not recommended. Here the saying “going out on a limb” most applies.


The split branch of the dogwood tree

Here it is, a little Dogwood (Cornus florida) sapling that was split in half from the pummeling missile that violently plunged down in its exact direction. See how low in the trunk it was hit? This could seriously compromise the tree’s chance of survival. We planted this tree from the funds provided our block by the Philadelphia Department of Street’s Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee. By entering the block in the yearly most beautiful block contest, we were awarded a small amount of money to beautify the block, which is how this tree was purchased.

It was planted at the very terminus of the block, which ends at the park, in an area we call the horseshoe (because of the the two paths on each side of the street, which curve together to meet at the top of a small hill). The vision was that someday there would be this elegant native tree, that in the spring would provide a beautiful display of flowers framed at the end of the block, for all to see.

The spot where it was planted was previously covered with the invasive exotic saplings of Norway maple (Acer platanoides), the exotic invasive groundcover English Ivy (Hedera helix), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) an herbaceous invasive exotic and Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).  Also in this spot was dumped material, with at least 700 pounds of concrete rubble, old bricks, potato chip bags dating back to the 70s, bottles, electrical wire, car parts etc.  

What is left of the Dogwood sapling

The good news is that half of the tree is still alive!  Hopefully by may of 2030, there will be a halfway decent dogwood tree with some nice blooms on it. We had originally planted two of them, but one suddenly died without prior notice, possibly from the dogwood anthracnose disease, a blight affecting these beautiful native trees.

The Groundhog Day storm was alot of ice pelting down for about an hour or so early this morning, resulting in the branch that fell, some freezing rain and then just rain later on.  Off in the park, a Sassafrass branch (Sassafrass albidum) came down from a mature specimen.

Why does the Tulip Poplar break so easily? What is the evolutionary advantage of this?  Perhaps, because the tree is so tall (The tallest in the canopy in these parts) it needs to stay tall and compete.  What use is an old lower branch that is not getting that much sun and using up needed resources?  If they break off easily after serving their usefulness, the tree will be better served, able to redirect those resources to growing ever taller branches, outcompeting other trees.

a closer look at the point of breakage

The blackened area at the very tip is not rot, but dirt.  The branch went into the ground like a spear before rebounding to its present location.