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Liriodendron tulipifera is often confused with:
Magnolia 'Jane' Flowers
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Tilia americana Tilia americana
Crataegus phaenopyrum Crataegus phaenopyrum
Fraxinus americana Fraxinus americana

Yellow Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera

Previously known as:

  • Liriodendron procerum
  • Tulipifera lirodendrum
Phonetic Spelling
lir-ee-o-DEN-dron tew-lip-IF-er-a
Description

The tulip poplar is a native large deciduous tree that may grow 90 to 120 feet tall and takes its name from its greenish-yellow heartwood and attractive tulip-like flowers. The tree has alternate, palmately veined, 4-lobed leaves with a smooth margin. The bark is smooth and dark green on young trees. As the tree ages, wide, white furrows that separate flat ridges develop. In late spring, 2.5-inch flowers with yellow-green petals and an orange corolla mature. The flowers of the tulip poplar are followed by dry, scaly, oblong, cone-shaped brown fruits, each bearing numerous winged seeds. The tree produces an aggregate of overlapping samaras that separate at maturity in the late fall. A distinctive feature is its winter buds which resemble a duck's bill. The trunks of mature trees may reach 4 to 6 feet in diameter, usually rising column-like with an absence of lower branches; the greenish-yellow heartwood does not develop until the tree reaches about 2 feet in diameter. It has been known to reach 200 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 8 to 10 feet.  The crown is compact, pyramidal, and often tapers sharply at the top.

This tree is one of the largest native trees in North America and is native to southern Ontario and the central and eastern United States. The tulip poplar is found naturally in mesic forests, cove forests at least 1500 feet in elevation, bottomland forests, and swamps. It is found throughout North Carolina and does best in deep, moist soils along streams and lower mountain coves. Native Americans used this tree for building canoes and the inner bark for medicine. It is the State tree of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

The genus name, Liriodendron, originated from the Greek words leirion which means "lily", and dendron meaning "a tree for the flowers." The specific epithet, tulipifera, means "tulip" and references its form of flowers. It is a member of the Magnoliaceae or magnolia family.

This tree prefers moist, well-drained soil, full sun, and slightly acidic soil. It is pH and partial-shade adaptable. This tree is sensitive to heat and drought and has a low compaction tolerance. The tulip poplar can be pruned and kept at shrub size by cutting them to the ground every 2-3 years.

The tulip poplar is a favorite nesting site for birds, and the flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

To plant, it needs a large area and does best in natural areas. It can have superb fall color of yellow to golden yellow but leaves abscise prematurely.  It is not recommended for a small residential area or as a street tree. There are many cultivars available including smaller forms of this plant.

Fire Risk: This plant has a low flammability rating.

Seasons of Interest: 

   Bloom:  Spring    Foliage: Summer and Fall   Fruits:  Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • large, broad, pyramidal deciduous tree
  • winter buds resemble a duck's bill
  • leaves alternate, board truncate apex, 3 to 4 lobes, green, waxy, and smooth on the upper surface, and paler beneath
  • tulip-like flower with greenish-yellow petals marked with orange at the base of each petal
  • cone-like green to brown fruits that contain samaras.
  • twigs have a sweet spicy scent when broken

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  This plant has pest and disease problems. Pest includes scale and aphids. Large aphid infestations result in honeydew secretions on the leaves that provide the growing medium for sooty mold. Verticillium wilt, mold, powdery mildew, leaf spots, and canker are possible diseases.  Fast-growing means they are weak-wooded, and susceptible to limb breakage in high winds or from ice/snow.  Shallow root systems do limit the types of plants that may be grown within the drip line. During hot, dry weather the leaves tend to turn yellow and drop off.  Rabbits eat the buds and inner bark of young trees.

VIDEO created by Grant L. Thompson for “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines for Landscaping” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Pink and White Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Arnold'
    narrow tree, 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide
  • 'Aureo-marginatum'
    gold edged to greenish-yellow variegated leaves
  • 'Crispum'
    contorted leaves with undulated margins
  • 'Fastigiatum'
    columnar habit
  • 'Little Volunteer'
  • 'Mediopictum'
    variegated leaves, green except yellow blotch in the center
'Arnold', 'Aureo-marginatum', 'Crispum', 'Fastigiatum', 'Little Volunteer', 'Mediopictum'
Tags:
#hummingbirds#deciduous#shade tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#native tree#yellow flowers#edible flowers#nectar plant#fall interest#rabbit resistant#dappled shade#food source wildlife#cpp#fire low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#playground plant#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#nectar plant mid-spring#Piedmont Mountains FACU#Coastal FACU#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#Audubon#wind damage prone#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#viceroy butterflies#spicebush swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Arnold'
    narrow tree, 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide
  • 'Aureo-marginatum'
    gold edged to greenish-yellow variegated leaves
  • 'Crispum'
    contorted leaves with undulated margins
  • 'Fastigiatum'
    columnar habit
  • 'Little Volunteer'
  • 'Mediopictum'
    variegated leaves, green except yellow blotch in the center
'Arnold', 'Aureo-marginatum', 'Crispum', 'Fastigiatum', 'Little Volunteer', 'Mediopictum'
Tags:
#hummingbirds#deciduous#shade tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#native tree#yellow flowers#edible flowers#nectar plant#fall interest#rabbit resistant#dappled shade#food source wildlife#cpp#fire low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#playground plant#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#nectar plant mid-spring#Piedmont Mountains FACU#Coastal FACU#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#Audubon#wind damage prone#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#viceroy butterflies#spicebush swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Liriodendron
    Species:
    tulipifera
    Family:
    Magnoliaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Tulip poplar is one of the largest and most valuable hardwood trees in the United States. Wood from this tree is somewhat weak and is used for furniture, plywood, boats, veneer, paper pulp, and general lumber. It is light, soft, and easily worked. The wood has also been used to make musical instruments and toys. Native Americans used this tree to make dugout canoes. They also used the inner bark of this tree as a medicine for cough and cholera.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Grafting
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southern Ontario to North Central and Eastern United States
    Distribution:
    Native: United States--AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, and WV. Canada--Ontario. Introduced: Hawaii
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant supports pollinators and is a larval host plant. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilo glaucus) has three flights from February-November in the deep south and March-September in the north. The Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) has two broods from April-October, and Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) has two to three broods from May-September and all year in Florida. Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and birds like cedar waxwings feed on the nectar from flowers. White-tailed deer, gray squirrels, and some songbirds eat the flowers in the spring. Sprouts, buds, and seeds are primary food for deer and squirrels.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire. White-tailed deer browse the foliage and twigs, but this tree is considered to be moderately deer resistant.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 80 ft. 0 in. - 120 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 30 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Oval
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Samara
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The tree produces and aggregate of fused, cone-like samaras (2 to 3 inches long, 3/4 of a inch wide) which turn brown separate at maturity throughout the winter. Oblong aggregate of samaras. Fruit is available September-October.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Orange
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Flower Petals:
    6 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The tulip poplar has cup-shaped, upright, fragrant yellow flowers with 6 green to yellow petals in 2 rows, reddish-orange bands near the base, and an orange center that somewhat resembles a tulip. Flowers have numerous stamens and pistils are fused. Flowers have 3 reflexed sepals. Although the flowers are 1.5 to 2 inches in length, they can go unnoticed on large trees because the flowers appear high in the crown of the tree and after the leaves are fully developed. Sometimes the flowers are first noticed when the attractive petals begin to fall below the tree. Flowers bloom from May to early June.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Smooth
    Waxy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Orbicular
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The tulip poplar has alternate, simple, palmately veined leaves with a smooth margin. Leaves have 4 main lobes, 5 to 6 inches long. The apical lobe is broad and truncated, and lateral lobes have smaller lobes near the rounded or truncated base. The petiole is 2 to 4 inches long. Some leaves will turn yellow and drop during drought. The bright green leaves (3 to 8 inches across and wide) with paler undersides turn golden yellow in fall.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Green
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Ridges
    Smooth
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Diamond
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth and light gray-green on young trees. As the tree ages, its color is grayish-brown, and it develops flat-topped ridges and white-colored furrows in a diamond pattern.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Description:
    Stems are green to reddish brown and have distinct stipule scars circumventing nodes. Buds are oval, flattened, green to reddish-brown, shaped like a duck's bill, and terminal buds are at most 1/2" long. The tree may be free of branches up to 80 feet off the ground. The twigs have a sweet and spicy scent when broken.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Recreational Play Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Fire
    Rabbits
    Wet Soil
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems
    Frequent Insect Problems