Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 62 Liriodendron tulipifera

Common Names: tulip poplar, tulip tree, yellow poplar Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia Family)
Image Gallery

tulip poplar flower
The tulip poplar's flower closely resembles a real tulip at first glance but if you look closely you'll see similarities to it's close cousins in the genus Magnolia.

Description

This large, stately deciduous tree is fairly common in the eastern United States. The tulip poplar can grow to heights of over 100 ft (30.5m) with trunk diameters of 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) not uncommon. It sometimes takes a conical form, but when grown in the open tends to assume a broad columnar shape that is its signature form. The distinctive cup-shaped flowers are 1.5 in (3.8 cm) across and about 2-2.5 in (5.1-6.35 cm) in length and really do resemble tulips. At the southern end of its range tulip poplar blooms in spring while in its northern range they'll appear in summer. The handsome flowers are greenish-yellow with orange markings and are held at the branch tips where they can be best admired. Flowers are followed by brown scaly cone-shaped fruit. The simple leaves are squarish-lobed and about 6 in (15.2 cm) in length. The large distinctive leaves make the tree easy to identify and have a shape that reminds me of a Pokemon character or a chubby gingerbread man.

There is a variegated version of tulip poplar called 'Aureomarginatum' that has leaves outlined in yellow. While the individual leaves are attractive when viewed closely, I think the yellowish foliage makes the tree look sickly when viewed from a distance. My favorite cultivar is 'Fastigiatum' which is somewhat smaller than the species and forms a neat narrow flat-topped column.

tulip poplar planted in highway median strip
The City of Tallahassee, Florida planted this median with tulip poplars about five years ago - they've more than doubled in height since then and will eventually form an impressive canopy over the roadway!

Location

Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, grows throughout the eastern United States from southern New England, west to Michigan, south to Louisiana, across to central Florida. It prefers fertile, moist soils such as would be found in mountain coves, lower north facing slopes, and bottomlands.


Culture

Light: Full sun to part shade. Moisture: Moist, well drained. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Seeds planted in fall.

Usage

Yellow poplar is one of the most important southern hardwood trees in the forest products trade. Its uses are many, including barrel bungs and furniture stock. In the landscape, if a true giant is desired, consider yellow poplar. Used for large public plantings, avenues and highways, it may be too large for the average home grounds. Impressive tulip poplar specimens can often be found beautifying golf course fairways, college campuses and similar large scale landscapes where their majestic stature can be appreciated. Homeowners may prefer to plant the smaller cultivar 'Fastigiatum' which is less likely to overwhelm a typical suburban yard.

tulip poplar
Young tulip poplar trees have a beautifully symmetrical cone shape that "squares off" at the top maturing into an equally beautiful and symmetric columnar form.

Features

With beautiful form, rapid growth (with good care), lovely spring flowers and golden fall foliage, this forest giant makes a great ornamental for spaces large enough to accommodate it. Native American tribes of Pennsylvania and Virginia used the long, clean boles for making dugout canoes. The wood of yellow poplar has gained some favor with modern boat builders for crafting light, strong sailing and rowing boats.

The tulip poplar was the first tree whose name I learned when I was a kid back in Kentucky. When I was about five or six, my best friend's second story bedroom looked out on the midsection of a huge tulip tree. Each May it presented it's yellow and orange "tulips" right up against the window offering to let us grab some. My friend's mom told us it was called a tulip tree and I was intrigued to learn that trees had names! It was only then that I began noticing that there were different kinds of trees. Shortly after that one of my aunts gave me a Field Guide to North American Trees which I read again and again in total amazement. Trees amaze me still.

Jack Scheper 05/10/97; updated 05/12/02, 11/8/03, 5/16/04, 4/25/11, 4/26/12



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Liriodendron species profiled on Floridata:


Liriodendron tulipifera

( tulip poplar, tulip tree, yellow poplar )

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