Minuit’s Giant Tulip Tree

There is an apocryphal story that in May of 1626, Dutch trader, Peter Minuit met with the Lenape Indians of Manhattan in the shade of a huge tulip tree (Liriodendron Tulipera) and traded them about $20 worth of beads and trinkets for all of Manhattan Island.

Last time we went to New York, we saw a monument to that venerable tree.

This boulder … marks the spot where a tulip tree… grew to a height of 165 feet … until its death in 1938 at the age of 280 years…

WOW! That’s some tree! Almost 300 years old and more than half the size of the Statue of Liberty! But check the dates again!

In 1938, that tree was 280 years old, which means that it was not yet living in 1626, when Minuit met with the Indians. Even if their dendrochronology was off by a few years and this particular specimen had been alive at that time, it would not have been particularly large.

So, Peter Minuit did buy Manhattan from the Indians near that spot… and a really big tree did grow near that spot… but Minuit did not sit under that tree to make that purchase.

Check out these early-1900s photos I found from the New York archives of the old tulip tree!

Despite the pleasant impossibility of the role of this tree in the Minuit story, that tree that stood for almost 300 years in northern Manhattan must have been an amazing, majestic thing to see – especially in the springtime.

Here in South Mississippi, our tulip trees bloom in April and May, but during the Little Ice Age in Manhattan, May was probably too cold and early for the tree to be blooming.

A tree that size, in its peak of healthy maturity, would have rained tulip blossoms all over creation, like a fairy wonderland!


Categories: Nature, Travel

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