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Liriodendron tulipifera – Tulip poplar

Categories:Attracts Hummingbirds Fall Color Important to Bees Native Plants Trees

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Tulip poplar is one of the finest native trees in North America. Native to vast tracts of eastern North America, Liriodendron tulipifera is the largest growing hardwood east of the Mississippi River.

Tulip poplar gets big, so you need space in the garden to accommodate it.

Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip tree in flower.
Liriodendron tulipifera – Tulip tree in flower plus leaf detail.

Known widely as tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera is also called tulip tree, yellow poplar, and my favorite, fiddle tree.

Liriodendron tulipifera is not a true poplar, but part of the magnolia family. The ‘tulip’ refers not to the flowers, but to the shape of the leaves, which are said to resemble tulips.

Liriodendron tulipifera can grow more than 150 feet tall, although 60-120 feet is more typical. The flowers so prominently shown here don’t even begin to describe how important Liriodendron tulipifera is in our gardens and the American landscape. Tulip tree is key to mid-spring honey production in the south, irresistible to hummingbirds, important to the lumber industry, crucial to forest ecosystems, and a spectacular garden specimen.

It is the state tree of three of our fifty states: Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Liriodendron is fast growing. Many fast-growing hardwoods are weak and brittle. Tulip tree is strong and reliable. It is an important source of lumber in American industry.

If you want to grow a tree found in the truly rare virgin forests of the forests of eastern North America, tulip tree is a fine choice. Liriondendron tulipifera can be grown as a very beautiful specimen tree, and habit is conical. Tulip tree is easily identified by the four pointed lobes found on the leaves. The leaves turn a clear yellow in fall.

Tulip poplar grown as specimen tree.
Young tulip poplar

To grow Liriodendron tulipifera in the garden, you need sun, consistently well-drained, moist, rich soil.

Poorly drained or persistently wet soils are the only real problem. It spreads to 40′-50′, so do not plant close to structures. Mature Liriodendron tulipifera trees may have trunks four to five feet in diameter. Limbs grow naturally high off the ground, and tulip tree grows straight and true.

Liriodendron tulipifera gets very big in the forest.
Liriodendron tulipifera

Flowers do not appear profusely until tulip tree reaches 15 years of age or so, and due to the somewhat messy nature of the flowers and shallow root system, Liriodendron tulipifera is not recommended as a street tree.

Liriodendron tulipifera is an important pollinator for honey bees when in flower during spring. A relatively small tree can account for 5-10 pounds of honey alone.

Liriodendron tulipifera flowers in spring.
Liriodendron tulipifera flowers in spring.

 

Genus/speciesLiriodendron tulipifera
Common name(s)tulip tree, yellow poplar, fiddle tree
Of notemagnificent native tree, flowers tend to be produced high in the canopy
Fall coloryes
Water requirementsaverage, moist soil conditions
Soil qualityrich, well-drained
Suggested use(s)native collections, naturalized, shade gardens, woodlands
Hardiness zone(s)4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Typetree
Nativeyes
Invasiveno
Deer resistantyes
Deciduous or evergreendeciduous
Flower coloryellow
Bloom periodearly spring, mid to late spring
Exposurefull sun

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