62 Liriodendron tulipiferaCommon Names: tulip poplar, tulip tree, yellow poplar Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia Family)
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.
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.
CultureLight: Full sun to part shade. Moisture: Moist, well drained. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Seeds planted in fall.
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.
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