Bee-Gone Bygone: Farewell to a Long-Serving Poplar

After nearly four years, the 20-foot stump of a tulip poplar that has stood sentinel at the southeast corner of Tudor Place’s South Lawn for nearly two centuries, was removed this week. Arborists in 2013 deemed the tree irredeemably weakened by age and structural damage from the June 2012 Derecho. But they also made a surprising discovery in the tree’s lower trunk.

Wild honeybees had been living in the tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, for more than 10 years, it was estimated, pollinating flowering plants and trees of Tudor Place and its neighbors. After removal of hazardous overhanging limbs, therefore, the tree’s lower part remained as a bee-friendly “snag,” an ungainly-looking length of trunk reaching about 40 feet in the air.

Arborists had first examined the tree after the June 2012 derecho windstorm. The following year, they found a 20-foot “torsion” crack in the main trunk inflicted by the derecho. With a bus stop and busy intersection below, Tudor Place couldn’t risk dropping limbs or, worse, the XXX-foot tree’s collapse. In 2014, a 70-ton crane was brought in to accomplish the task. To maximize education potential, the museum posted signs explaining the odd snag’s purpose. Separately, plans were laid to cultivate (domesticated) honeybees elsewhere on site. In the winter of 2016-2017, however, for reasons unknown, the feral bee colony decamped. At that point, Tudor Place decided to finish removing the tree.

When the snag came down in January, its decayed interior proved to be, as expected, almost completely hollow. The tree will be replaced with a similar, albeit younger and smaller, specimen. With assistance from expert arborists, Tudor Place continues caring for the many old and younger trees on its five and one half acres, including the (still thriving!) South Lawn tulip poplar, more than 200 years old, known as D.C.’s “Millennium Tree.”