• Laurel Contributor

Bob Padgett Tulip Tree

by Donna Rhodes

Its noble attributes earned the Carolina Poplar honors as Highlands’ Official Tree.

Highlands is known for its magnificent forests. The Highlands Biological Station plays a huge role in supporting them.

There are two organizations that contributed greatly to HBS’s foundation: one, the Highlands Scientific Society (1886) founded by Thomas Harbison; and two, the Southern Blue Ridge Horticultural Society (1891-95).

It is the latter that researched the variety of tree that would best suit the streets and yards of Highlands. There were pages filled with requirements including:

Easy to transplant

Quick to grow


No shoots, just roots

A tall, straight body

No droopy branches

Cool shade, leaves not too dense

An early spring bloomer

A late leaf-dropper (but before winter)

Beautiful foliage

Insect- and drought-resistant

Adaptable to any soil


No windborne seeds

No sticky sap

No tempting flowers or nuts

No prickly burrs

Native to America

Neither contracts nor spreads diseases

After SBRHS reviewed and debated their list, they decided such a tree was impossible to find and they’d do well to simply paint the imaginary botanical wonder on the side of a tall building and call it done.


The winner of their contest was (drum roll please) Liriodenron tulipifera, better known as Carolina or Yellow Poplar, the Tulip Tree of the Mountains.

If you’d like to see what 400 years of tulip tree growth looks like, visit the Bob Padgett Tulip Poplar in Horse Cove. It approaches 130 feet tall and its waistline is 20 feet. The crown (and it deserves one) is about 76 feet. It’s the third largest of its kind in America.

In 1966 logger Tearley Picklesimer wanted to cut it for wood. Padgett offered him a thousand bucks. Tearley took it, and thus the tree was saved and named after its rescuer.

To learn more about the flora, fauna, and Plateau folks who found natural history fascinating, read Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge,” borrowable at the local libraries and purchasable at highlandshistory.com.

(To learn more at the Bob Padgett Tulip Poplar and the easy way to view this majestic tree, read this month’s Adventure Out on Page 118.)

The Laurel Magazine

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