The tulip poplar is a handsome and majestic plant native to the Eastern United States. This tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, is also known as a Tuliptree, Yellow Poplar, and Whitewood; it grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9. It is the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Tulip Poplar is large, rapidly growing and deciduous; it can reach 150’ or more in height. It is not suitable for small residential properties or streets, but it is a magnificent shade tree in appropriate situations. Trees as tall as 175’ tall with a diameter of 9’ and hundreds of years old have been found in the southern Appalachians. The habit is “egg shaped” to pyramidal when it is young but the shape becomes irregular with age. There are many cultivated varieties of Liriodendron tulipifera, and one, ‘Little Volunteer’, is quite compact, with an expected height of 30’ and a spread of 15’.
The names “Tulip Tree” and “Tulip Poplar” come from the tulip-like shapes of the flower as well as the leaf. The tree is not, however, related to tulips or poplars.
Most of the flowers, 2” to 3” long, occur in the upper portion of the tree and are therefore not very noticeable. The flower is upright, yellow-green, and blooms from late May through mid-June in this area.
The foliage, which appears before flowering, is bright green in the summer and becomes a showy and beautiful golden yellow in the fall.
Tulip poplars prefer deep, fertile, moist, slightly acidic soil. They require full sun and do poorly in hot, dry sites although they reportedly survive well in drought.
This tree is not eaten by gypsy moths but is appreciated by aphids (and acquires the associated sooty mold), scale, and leaf spot. It is considered somewhat weak-wooded and may break up in severe storms and ice.
Tulip poplar wood is light yellow to brown and the sap wood is creamy white. The wood is popular and easy to work for furniture making, siding, interior finishing, and coffins. Native Americans used the wood for making dugout canoes, and early settlers, referred to the tree as “Canoe wood”.
It is said that this tree is an important honey plant in the eastern United States. The honey is strong flavored and popular with bakers.
The Ewing Environmental Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org) welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.