Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Leiden’s 300-year-old Liriodendron tulipifera in Autumn

Liriodendron tulipifera
Hortus Botanicus, Leiden, The Netherlands

It all started with a wonderful old date-plum tree at the Hortus botanicus Leiden. Dr. Rinny Kooi inspired me to paint the tree, having drawn many trees herself. As a retired biologist, researcher and teacher at the Leiden University, she continues work in many fields of biology, among others writing books and articles on trees and assisting in teaching botanical illustration with me at the Hortus. It was such a wonderful experience to study and paint this old date-plum that I was encouraged to draw other trees as well. It was biologist Drs. Jan Hengstmengel who introduced me to an old Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. After spending an enormous amount of time analyzing old dusty documents he was able to conclude that this majestic tree was planted in October 1716 by Prof. Herman Boerhaave, prefect of the Hortus Botanicus Leiden at that time, making this specimen 300 years old in 2016, the same year I finished my painting. Prof. Boerhaave received the seeds from British pharmacist and botanist Isaac Rand, who lived in Virginia, USA. With its old age, this tree is probably the oldest Tulip tree on the European continent. *


The leaves of Liriodendron tulipifera have a very distinctive shape and develop in a most charming way. By the end of May the tree produces large and brilliant flowers with an orange color pattern on its greenish-yellow petals. As soon as the flowering season has finished, a cone that consists of many thin narrow scale-like fruitlets, samaras, will start to develop. Each cone could have sixty or seventy of these samaras. When autumn arrives, the cones have turned completely brown and are clearly visible between the flaming yellow leaves. The small samaras are blown away with the strong autumn winds. With those beautiful brown cones and that magnificent cadmium yellow, I hoped to capture this monumental tree with the autumn wind rustling through its leaves.


Trees are wonderfully varied in form, color, size, gracefulness and movement, with no two leaves the same. Some are even the oldest living organisms on this Earth. As magnificent as they are, they also provide us with vital substances such as food, timber, fuel and medicines or become a children's playground. Trees and forests take care of soil formation, soil erosion, water catchment, a habitat for many species and climate regulation. They are the lungs of our planet and give life to this world’s inhabitants. It is of utmost importance that woodlands, rainforests and trees in urban spaces and parks are preserved. Planting a tree is a small step towards a better global ecosystem. Painting a tree will become an interesting and inspiring adventure. I am already looking forward to sketching my next tree.


* Jan Hengstmengel, 'De tulpenboom', Vriendennieuws (uitg. Vrienden van de Leidse Hortus), sept. 2015, blz. 30-33. Jan Hengstmengel, ‘De tulpenboom’, Newsletter Friends of the Hortus (published by Vrienden van de Leidse Hortus), sept. 2015, p. 30-33.

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2016 Esmée Winkel
    Leiden’s 300-year-old Liriodendron tulipifera in Autumn
    Liriodendron tulipifera
    Watercolor on paper
    10-1/4" x 13-3/4"