Seedlings with large, 10” wide, leaves growing in yard, tulip tree?

Asked September 3, 2020, 10:29 AM EDT

I have at least two seedling that sprouted this year growing right next to (within 3 feet) my house. The leaves are very big, about 8-10” wide and 12” long. They look like pictures of Tulip tree leaves. I took photos, but do not know how to upload them, so if you email me, I can forward the photos that way. I do have what I believe is a very mature, very tall, with very straight trunk poplar tree growing nearby but the leaves on the seedlings are a lot larger than those on the poplar tree and shaped a bit differently. I have lived here since 1994 and have several red/pin oaks, “swamp” maples, some dogwoods, Japanese maples, “cherry” trees, and the afore-mentioned poplar tree. About 4-5 years ago a black walnut seedling sprouted, it is now 20-30 feet tall. This year, and last, I have had a proliferation of seedlings, many types of which I have not had in my yard before. Many look like ash or hickory from their branch and leaf structure. I’d like to keep them growing, but many, like the “tulip” tree, are too close to the house and other structures. I would like to transplant them, but don’t know how or to where.

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

You should be able to upload your photos to this reply by using the "choose file" button to select image files; you can attach up to three per reply.

Based on the description of the leaf size and the fact that the leaf sounds entire (in other words, not a compound leaf), this sounds like Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa). If so, this is a weedy invasive species and should be disposed of. More information can be found here, including images of the leaf you can compare with your sapling: (Note: seedling/sapling leaves for this species can be larger and a slightly different shape than the mature tree's foliage, which you can see further down that page.)

For native species that you wish to keep, moving them as young as possible will cause them the least stress. Some, like Walnut, Hickory, and Pawpaw are tap-rooted when young and do not transplant well overall. In general, transplanting trees while dormant in winter (any time the ground isn't frozen) should be the easiest time of year to minimize transplant shock. If any saplings are indeed Ash it would be best to site them well away from buildings should they die back and break apart as they mature, since the pest Emerald Ash Borer is still a serious threat and causing serious loss of Ash trees all over our region.

As for where to place other saplings after moving them, we cannot say without more information on your yard conditions, space available, and desired aesthetics. In either case, keep in mind their mature sizes and, while wild trees grow closely together all the time, they compete with each other for moisture and nutrients which can be more limiting in developed landscapes.

Are you certain the Black Walnut is correctly identified? It would be uncommon for a seedling of this species to reach two to three stories tall in half a decade; that is faster than their typical growth rate in average soil. Might it be Ailanthus? They look similar to Walnut (and Sumac) at a glance.