Thursday, February 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

275 years ago, George Washington - 'Father of Our Country' - was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. While we may picture him standing in the boat crossing the Delaware River, or think about his wooden teeth (they weren't really wooden), he was also a plantation owner, raising wheat as a cash crop. He owned 8000 acres containing five farms with over 3000 acres in cultivation.

The farm at Mount Vernon where his family actually resided was on 500 acres and had a pleasure garden, a kitchen garden, serpentine walkways, and groves of trees. He had a greenhouse, where he kept tropical and semi-tropical plants such as coffee, orange, lemon, lime, sago palm, and aloe. He grew hollyhocks, peonies, primroses, heliotrope, larkspur, and many other annuals and perennials. It is documented that he grew the sometimes difficult Crown Imperial.

We have an offspring of one of George's trees. In 1785, he directed the planting of tulip poplars (Lirodendron tulipifera) on the bowling green near his house. When Jenna was doing her leaf collection for biology class in ninth grade, I learned about this tree with the uniquely shaped leaves. I've always loved foliage that's out of the ordinary, so decided then that I would one day own sweet gum, gingko, and tulip poplar trees. Through American Forests Historic Tree Nursery, I purchased a tulip poplar propagated from one of those that grows at Mount Vernon. They no longer offer this particular tree as grown from one at Mount Vernon, although you can get a white ash that is.

Our tulip poplar got off to a rocky start. Both the first and second one died, but they have a lifetime replacement guarantee on their trees and the third time was a charm. Just this past year, in spite of the Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars munching on its leaves, ours began to grow in earnest and we hope to see it really shoot up this summer.

I visited Mount Vernon in the spring of 1994, with Kara's eighth grade class. It was a beautiful place and if I'd been into gardening then and
if I'd not been responsible for several adolescent girls, I would have enjoyed it even more. Sad to say, I don't recall the tulip poplars, but Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area is somewhere I'd like to return to, so maybe someday I can see the ancestors of the one growing in our back yard.

*Photo of Lirodendron tulipifera leaf by Bill Thompson III


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history lesson! I'd like to see that tree sometime.

Kylee Baumle said...

And so you shall! You know you're welcome here anytime! :-)

Unknown said...

Interesting! I followed your link to the Great Black Swamp entry on wikipedia... did you see that tuliptrees were dominant natives in the higher elevations of the Black Swamp? So it's a native, too--I never knew that.

By the way, it's hard to complain about the tiger swallowtails munching on the leaves when you know what they'll turn out to be, isn't it? :)

Kylee Baumle said...

I actually moved those caterpillars to our river birch tree, since it's larger and wouldn't miss the leaves. The tulip poplar is too small yet and I didn't feel like it could afford the loss! The swallowtail cats like river birch, too, so we're all happy now!

Unknown said...

Ah... good point. I forgot that you said it's small. Good thing you had an alternate food source for them--I love it when things work out. :)

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