Monday, November 20, 2023

The Tulip Tree at Tonkin Park

The autumn colors are here and the weather has been mild so the trees are not bare yet. It’s mid November and as I make a trek across town today I pass one of my favorite old trees in downtown Renton, Washington. I’ve known her most of my life. I affectionately refer to this grand old tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) as her, but tulip trees technically are both male and female. They have male pollen producing stamens and female pollen receiving pistils. I’m by no means a plant biology specialist, but we do have one in the family. My youngest daughter Paige is a plant biologist and currently working on her Doctorate back in Ohio.

The Tulip Tree at Tonkin Park, Renton, Washington.

Though I can’t find any definitive answers as to how old she is, this is the former site of the original Tonkin General Store. James Tonkin, as best as I can assemble the facts, immigrated from England and settled here in Renton in 1882. He opened the first store at this location in 1885. When James Tonkin died his son Josiah “Si” Tonkin took over the store in 1902 and it was later vacated in 1915 when they moved to another location. The original building was torn down and the property was donated to the city. It became Tonkin Park in 1948.

I think this beauty is about (or maybe a little over) 100 years old. I could be wrong, but she’s huge and I remember her being so since I was 7 or 8 years old. Poking around on the internet I found that tulip trees can live to be 300 years, so she’s actually a rather sprite young thing. As you can see off to the right there’s another tulip tree. I think of her as the little sister. She’s almost as tall, but not quite as large. I grew up in Renton and have walked or driven by Tonkin Park since the 1950s and 60s. 


Donkey Run Away from the Mines

Tonkin Park is a small triangle plot of land located at 399 Williams Ave S in downtown Renton. Another wonderful landmark here is the cast aluminum sculpture, Donkey Run Away from the Mines, by Richard Beyer (1925 -2012). He created several public artworks in the area including, Waiting for The Interurban, Fremont, Seattle, The Traveler, in Bend Oregon, and the Sasquatch Pushing Over a House at Seattle’s University Playground.

Tulip trees are native to the Eastern United States, but these two have done quite well here in the Pacific Northwest. I love autumn, but regardless of the season, they bring me joy and connection.

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