Category Archives: Native Plants

Plants of New Jersey # 24 Tulip Tree


Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the mighty Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). The Tulip Tree is the tallest (and some might say the most beautiful) hardwood tree in the eastern forest which sometimes earn them the nickname ‘The Redwoods of the East’. The trees can obtain heights up to 200 feet but usually they are around 100 feet. The trunk of the tree grows very straight and usually does not have any branches until about 80-100 feet. The tree is very fast growing and can live up to 500 years. Tulip Tree is part of the Magnolia family of plants. “Liriodendron” is Greek for “Lily Tree”.

Tulip Tree Trunk

The trunk of the Tulip Tree can grow 4-6 feet in diameter and is second only to the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) for its width. The tree is shade intolerant and grows best in deep rich soil. The wetland indicator status for Tulip Tree is FACU which means that while the tree is usually found in uplands it may be found in freshwater wetlands on occasion. 

Tulip Tree Flowers

The flowers of the Tulip Tree resemble tulips (hence the name of the tree!). The flowers bloom from late May to mid-June and are cup shaped with pale green/yellow flowers with an orange tint. Tulip Trees generally do not begin to have flowers until they are about twenty years of age.

Tulip Tree Flower Petal

Here is a petal from the flower where you can see the colors.

Tulip Tree Leaf

Some say that the leaf of the Tulip Tree is itself tulip shaped. What do you see?

Tulip Tree

The Tulip Tree is host to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. Northern Cardinals and White-Footed Mice eat the seeds of the Tulip Tree.

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Plants of New Jersey # 23 Virginia Creeper


Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Virginia Creeper is a native perennial woody vine native to the eastern United States and is a member of the Grape family of plants. The wetland indicator status for the vine is FACU which means which means that while the plant is usually found in uplands it may be found in freshwater wetlands on occasion.

Virginia Creeper Leafing Out in Early Spring

Virginia Creeper is often confused with Poison Ivy and usually grows where Poison Ivy is found. The difference is that Virginia Creeper has five leaves and Poison Ivy has three leaves. Virginia Creeper prefers full sun but is able to thrive in moderately shaded habitat as well. The plant grows new vines from its extensive root system and attaches to surfaces like trees and fences by discs. The discs form after a tendril touches a support like a tree. The vine can grow up to sixty feet high.

Virginia Creeper flowers in late spring (usually around June). The flowers give way to green berries which turn purplish/black as summer gives way to fall.

The berries are toxic for human consumption but birds are able to eat them.

Birds that eat the berries include:

Mammals that browse on Virginia Creeper include:

Virginia Creeper is one of the first plants to change colors in the fall. The plant displays a beautiful red. It is thought that this early change lets birds know its berries are ready for eating!

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Plants of New Jersey # 22 Fringed Polygala


Fringed Polygala (Polygaloides paucifolia)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss Fringed Polygala (Polygaloides paucifolia). Fringed Polygala is part of the Milkwort family of plants. The plant’s wetland indicator status is FACU which means that while the it is usually found in uplands it may be found in freshwater wetlands on occasion. The ‘Gala’ in ‘Polygala’ means “milk” in Greek. It was once thought that Cows that ate Fringed Polygala would produce more milk.

Fringed Polygala Leaves

The egg shaped leaves are evergreen and turn bronze red in winter. Fringed Polygala is perennial and grows from 3-6 inches above the forest floor. The plant is associated both with hardwoods and conifers (I have seen it growing in both environments). It does well with moist soil. You may find it growing in beds of moss. Fringed Polygala thrives in undisturbed forests.

Fringed Polygala in Bloom

Fringed Polygala blooms between May and June every year. The pink to purple flowers sort of look like either an airplane without a tail or an exotic bird (also without a tail) and are pollinated by bees. The flower also superficially resembles a tiny orchid.

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Plants of New Jersey # 21 Dutchman Breeches


Dutchman Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss Dutchman Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). Dutchman Breeches is a member of the Poppy family of plants. The plant grows in neutral to slightly acid soil usually in rocky conditions. The flower is a true spring ephemeral and flowers between April and May every year. Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of this interesting plant.

Dutchman Breeches in bloom

The white flowers with a yellow tip do indeed look like old fashioned breeches hung to dry. The flowers are on a leafless stalk which can grow to heights of 5-9 inches. These stalks can have anywhere from 4-8 flowers each. The leaves are feathery in appearance and are generally grayish/green and pale underneath.

Dutchman Breeches Seedpods

After the flowers die long seedpods appear. The seedpods mature in late spring and open lengthwise due to the pressure from the growing seeds. Ants disperse the seeds. The leaves yellow and whither once the seeds have matured.

Typical Dutchman Breeches Habitat

The plant can cause skin allergies and can even be fatal if you were to ingest it. Cattle have been known to have been poisoned from eating this plant. Be warned!

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