A Tulip By Any Other Name

magnolia blossoms 04.13.15Instead of writing about what I’d planned, I’ve decided to entertain (or bore) you with some thoughts and memories prompted by a Facebook conversation.

In a previous post, I showed photos of our old magnolia tree (new to us, but it appears to be a rather old tree) just beginning its first bloom in several years, according to the neighbors. When my friend Kimberli commented on Facebook, “That tulip tree is gorgeous,” it sparked a brief discussion about the names of trees.

2015-05-02 10.47.12Before I get into that, though, an update about the tree in question: shortly after posting the photo, a hailstorm shredded all the blossoms. Though the tree looked rather dejected after that, it pulled itself up by its smooth-barked bootstraps and produced a few more blooms, as you can see in the photo on the right.

It seems to be the sort of tree that likes to have the last word, so I’ve decided to humor it by talking about… words.

It’s interesting how so many objects, common and otherwise, are called different things in different locations. We could all come up with a dozen examples without thinking about it too hard — such as, how people refer to carbonated beverages in different parts of the country (soda, pop, coke).

A grocery store advertised a sale on swai fillets a few years ago. Though I like fish, I’d never heard of that kind before. So I looked it up and found that what American fish markets call swai, other people know as iridescent shark or Siamese shark (though it’s not a shark), tra, sutchi catfish, shark catfish, striper, striped Pangasius, and other names.

The foliage and blossom of what Ohioans call a tulip tree.
The foliage and blossom of what Ohioans call a tulip tree.

So it  came as no surprise when Kimberli said that where she lives (North Carolina, I believe), they call trees like ours something other than what we call them. Then my sister added that she, too, recently heard magnolias referred to as tulip trees. She also commented that one of tree that we call tulip grew down the street from us when we were kids.

I don’t remember the tree from our old neighborhood. However, my sister’s memories often differ from mine, partly because we’re different people but also because of the age difference. (I won’t tell you which of us is older.) I remember a catalpa tree, which we kids called a cigar tree, but not a tulip. Of course, there could have been one outside my bedroom window for all I know. The fact that I don’t remember it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.

Nevertheless, I have plenty of memories — and fond ones — of tulip trees. Our first house (which I’ve always thought of our little house in the big woods, though the woods weren’t very big) had several of them on the property. I loved living there, and I loved the beautiful trees, with their impressive height, yellow flowers in the spring, welcome shade in the summer, and beautiful yellow foliage in the fall.

I remembered a photo we took of our little husky mutt, Cucumber, at the foot of one, so I rummaged through the old snapshots. Couldn’t find any good pictures of the trees, mostly because they were too big to fit in a photo. But I located that one with the dog, as well as some others in which the trunks of the trees could be seen.

So, if you want to know how to identify what my sister and I call a tulip tree, you’ll have to look at the photo above that I stole from Wikipedia. But here are a few shots of the towering tulips in my memory.

Cucumber looked like a Siberian husky, but she was a mixed breed. Though only about 35 pounds, she was a bloodthirsty hunter. There was no prey she wouldn’t take on, whether a bird,Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.54.47 PM fish, raccoon, or a 250-pound hog. (I needn’t tell you who came out the winner in the latter battle.) One day in 1983, she chased a squirrel up one of those tulip trees and waited, poised to spring, for it to come down. When I say she waited, poised, I mean she waited the whole time in that position without moving a whisker. I don’t know how every muscle in her body didn’t cramp up.

The squirrel knew she was there and was wise enough to not try coming down. After what seemed like half the afternoon, it hopped to another tree, and that permitted Cukie to change position at last.  My memory of the details is about as dim as the picture itself, but I think the squirrel got away, but Craig and I got cricks in our necks in sympathy for the dog.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 2.02.37 PMHere on the left is another shot of those tulip tree trunks. The note in the photo album says the picture was taken in March of 1983. If you look closely, you can see Emily (in the red snowsuit) and Shelley (in blue) playing on the swing set. In the snow. Which, I guess, is why I took the picture. That, and because it’s just plain a pretty scene.

See the picnic table? It did more than collect snow, as you can see from the picture, below left, of a family picnic on that table and in the shade of those tulip trees, in 1981.

The lady standing is Craig’s mom; the two at the table are his sisters, Pam and Gail. And the little girl is our oldest daughter, Emily, who would have been three years old that summer. Also below, on the right, you can see Craig and his dad cooking burgers on the grill. In my photo album, I gave that photo this caption: “No, this is not wilderness camping, it’s our backyard.” Note that they’re sitting at the foot of one of those tall tulip trees.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 2.05.30 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-02 at 2.05.08 PM









Yes, that was our backyard when we lived in our “little house in the not-so-big woods.” Quite a bit different from our little town yard now — but at least we still have a tulip tree. Just a different kind!

I was going to talk about words, wasn’t I? Okay, let’s talk about Book #2 in the Gannah series, Words in the Wind. Remember last words in the book? You don’t? Okay, then, I’ll tell you:

…the end.




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