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Spring 2010

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

May 11, 2010

Tulip trees drooling nectar

In early May, sticky sweet nectar oozes out of the flowers of tulip trees and splatters onto leaves, branches and car windshields.

Also known as tulip poplar and yellow poplar, the tree is not really a poplar, but a magnolia, with flowers resembling tulips.

In a couple of weeks the blooms will fade and collapse, leaving behind a slender cone that will mature in the autumn and release seeds in the winter.

Nectar collects on one of the flower sepals, right. Its bright, sweet flavor is followed by a dry, slightly bitter aftertaste.

The flowers are a big draw for hummingbirds and honeybees. A 20-foot tree can produce eight pounds of nectar, which bees are able to convert into four pounds of dark amber honey.

William Bell, who keeps 15 hives of bees in Isle of Wight County, Va., says that in a good year "a hive can produce 60 to 70 pounds of good spring honey," derived predominantly from tulip trees. "It's got a very sweet, bold taste."

SOURCES: National Forest Service; Nuby Run Bees

A tulip tree flower drools nectar