Opinion

Felled tulip tree stood by for much of Vashon's history

By Rayna Holtz

For The Beachcomber

The Eernisse tulip tree was a fine landmark on Vashon Island, one of the tallest trees in town and one of the historic trees planted by a family of early settlers, Arie and Sara Eernisse.

According to a memoir written by their son Fred, they moved to Vashon in 1904, following their friends, the Harmelings, who came in 1903. Both families were Dutch, and both planted strawberries and orchards of fruit trees.

Counting the rings on the tulip tree stump, I estimate the tree was between 95 and 100 years old. Perhaps Arie and Sara Eernisse planted it because they had admired the tall mature specimens they’d seen in Iowa. They had settled for a few years in Iowa, where Fred was born and where tulip trees grow native.

They are very impressive trees, developing a majestic columnar trunk up to 120 feet tall. It’s interesting that the flowers resemble tulips, which are so significant to the Dutch people. The pale green petals marked with orange are lovely, and back in the days before the tree was severely pruned by the power company and by developers, some of its graceful branches hung low enough for pedestrians to get a very good look at them.

From the Thriftway windows I always stopped to gaze at the striking symmetrical spread of branches, elegant in the winter when leafless, a luscious bright green in spring, glossy and flashing like aspen leaves in the summer, buttery yellow in the fall.

The beautiful Latin name is Liriodendron tulipifera, which led me to think of it as a lyrical tree, poetic and rollicking like dance music. It’s easy to see how it can be a member of the showy magnolia family.

Today I knelt by the broad disc of its base and measured the diameter at an approximate average of 52 inches. Its circumference is 171.5 inches.

In its 100-year lifespan (give or take a couple years) it overlooked the passage of hundreds of early settlers who used the Vashon Landing for steamboat arrivals and departures just east of town.

Under its branches Arie and Guy Eernisse drove a team of white horses hauling supplies and travelers to and from town and the landing for the formative years of Vashon town.

Around it timber was felled, fields were cleared, and houses went up. The farm became primarily a u-pick currant and berry farm in Fred’s last years, a last agricultural holdout right in the town center. 

What stories it could tell, if only it could tell!

— Rayna Holtz is a naturalist and reference librarian at the Vashon Library.

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