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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - June 15, 2009

From: Mendham, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: General Botany, Trees
Title: What caused purple heartwood in my Tuliptree?
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

My Tulip tree was hit by lightning and all bark from the base of the tree up to 50 feet was blown off. The tree also sustained a significant crack through the trunk. When the tree was cut down, we noticed a deep purple color throughout the trunk. If you think of the rings of the trunk with 1 - 15 years being at the core, 16 - 30 as another set, and 31 to 50 as a third set of rings. The purple color was found in most of the 16 - 30 year bands. Have you ever seen this before? What caused it?

ANSWER:

Liriodendron tulipifera (tuliptree) is a native tree of eastern North American forests.  It is our tallest eastern tree.  Also called Tulip poplar, White poplar and Yellow poplar, among many other common names, Tuliptree is noted for its soft, white sapwood and colorful heartwood.  

Tuliptree wood is useful for many woodworking applications.  If you have an old solid wood, hardwood dresser, chances are good that the drawer sides, backs and bottoms are all made of Tulip poplar.  In many of those old drawer pieces you can see discolored heartwood like that which you found in your tree.  Most older Tulip poplar trees have bands of green, brown, purple or other colors in the heartwood of the tree.  These colors are created when compounds known as extractives are deposited into the forming rings of heartwood.  The color of the deposits are determined largely by the mineral content of the soil in which the tree is growing.  However, we do not know which specific minerals are responsible for the purple coloration of the wood in your tree.

 

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