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IU scientist helps push back tulip tree origins

BLOOMINGTON – New research by an Indiana University scientist and a Russian botanist suggests the roots of Indiana’s state tree can be traced back to the time of the dinosaurs.

The modern-day tulip tree is the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s called the tulip tree or tulip poplar because it produces large flowers each spring.

IU professor emeritus of geological sciences and biology David Dilcher discovered fossilized flowers and fruits in Kansas in 1975, but their relationship to living plants had remained a mystery.

New research on those fossils by Dilcher and Russian botanist Mikhail Romanov suggests the tulip tree line diverged from magnolia trees more than 100 million years ago and has two living species, eastern North America’s tulip tree and a relative found in eastern China.