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Sunday - June 06, 2010

From: Raymond, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Death of mature tulip tree in Raymond IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a mature tulip tree that leafed out and looked very healthy then all of the leaves turned brown and fell off. I think the tree is now dead. We live in the country and have a corn field behind us, could herbicide applied to this crop have done this? It happened very quickly. Thanks.

ANSWER:

We can't think of anything else that would have caused such a quick death of a large tree like that. However, it is still surprising that it would happen so fast. The scary thing is that much poison is being applied to a crop right next to you; there are other things that herbicide can kill. Still, if there were that much herbicide sprayed in the area, other things should have died. Herbicides do not pick and choose what they kill.

We did, however, find one other clue, on our webpage on Liriodendron tulipifera (tuliptree):

"Conditions Comments: Tulip tree is insect and disease free. It is intolerant of compacted soil and should not be placed in confined beds or planters near pavement. It grows very rapidly in deep, rich well-drained soils with uniform rainfall. Dry summer weather causes physiological problems. Tulip tree drops its foliage in response to drought and is somewhat weak-wooded." 

Have you been in a drought situation in your area? If so, perhaps the tree was only reacting to the environment, in which case it may still be alive, just in dormancy until the water situation improves. Try our thumbnail test, scratching a thin layer of bark off various places on the tree. If you find a thin green layer underneath, the tree is still alive, but probably needs help. Try pushing a hose down in the soil around the tree and letting water drip slowly, then move it to other locations around the tree, depending on how large the tree is. We don't know what "mature" is in this case, because this tree can grow to be 150 ft. tall. If you do find some green under the bark, and can reach the upper part of the tree, you might also trim up to 1/3 of third of that upper part, to make less of a load on the roots trying to get water up to its leaves.  And don't fertilize-the last thing a tree in trouble needs is fertilizer stimulating it to put on new growth, when the roots are just trying to stay alive.

Still hunting for clues to this mystery, we looked at the USDA Plant Profile for tuliptre and learned that it does grow natively around Montgomery County, IL, so severe weather should not have caused the sudden leaf drop. Just in case there is some other problem not obvious to us, we suggest you contact the University of Illinois Extension Office for Montgomery County. They are closer to the situation and may have heard of other examples of this problem in your area.

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