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Tulip Poplar

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SCIENTIFIC NAME: Liriodendron tulipifera
FAMILY: Magnoliaceae

This tree in Colorado The Tulip Poplar is a very site-sensitive tree, favoring full sun and moist, well drained, slightly acid soil. The roots are wide spreading and massive, so this tree will do best if given plenty room to grow.

Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

Native range and habit Tulip Poplars are beautiful ornamental trees with large conspicuous flowers and notched leaves on long petioles that quiver in the slightest breeze. It may because of this characteristic that it is associated with the name poplar, even though true poplars are in the Salicaceae or willow family. In its native range, on the east coast of the United States, a fast growing tree may be 120 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches in diameter by age 50. The branches usually start high on the trunk, spreading to form a crown up to 50 feet wide. Although, this tree can become quite large at young age, maturity is reached in about 200 years, with very old trees hitting the three century mark.

Foliage Deciduous, 4 to 6 inches in diameter, mostly four lobed. Personal note from Melissa McHale (private consultant): A friend once described a tulip poplar’s leaf as, “if cat woman had a symbol this leaf would be it”. Ever since then, I have always seen a cat’s face hidden in the outline of a tulip poplar leaf. In my opinion, no other leaf can compare in beauty.

Flowers Appearing in late May or June after the leaves unfold; 1½ to 2 inches wide, cup shaped with 6 petal in two rows, light green yellow in color; 3 sepals; stamens and pistils are numerous and spirally arranged. Flowers resemble magnolia flowers, hence the common name tulip magnolia.

Fruit The erect, conelike aggregate of samaras is 2½ to 3 inches long. The winged seeds will flutter to the ground in Autumn, while the base of the cone often persists into winter.

Bark Young trees have dark green and smooth bark with smooth white spots that break up into long, rough, interlacing rounded ridges separated by ash gray fissures as the tree gets older. The inner bark is also bitter and aromatic.

Interesting uses Early pioneers hollowed out the long, straight trunks to make thin walled canoes – it was in such a canoe that Daniel Boone packed his family and belongings and left Kentucky for the Spanish Territory. To this day, Tulip Poplar wood is considered a very valuable timber product. Tulip tree honey is also a commercial product.

Information sources
Harlow, Harrar, Hardin and White, Textbook of Dendrology, Seventh Edition (1991)
Gerald Jonas, The Living Earth Book of North American Trees (1993)

Photo credits
Ohio Department of Natural Resources