The tulip poplar is also known as the tulip tree or the yellow poplar. It is a hardwood tree that's native to most of the eastern United States. It is not a true poplar tree but instead is a member of the magnolia tree family.
In some regions of the United States, tulip poplars can reach heights of 160 feet and higher. There have been records of tulip poplar trees reaching heights of up to 190 feet. Yet most of them will, on average, reach heights of 70 to 100 feet. The tulip poplar is also a quick-growing tree. A plus for the tulip poplar is that it tends to live longer than other fast-growing trees. It's also a hardwood, which many fast-growing trees are not. The trees flourish best in low shade/full sun with well-drained soil. Young tulip poplars are vulnerable to damage from vines of wild grapes. The vines can weigh the tree down. They can also decrease the amount of sunlight that reaches the young tulip poplars. Poison ivy and other vines pose the same threat to damaging the tree.
The flowers of a tulip poplar tree tend to show in the spring in southern regions of the United States. While, in more northern regions, they bloom later in spring in June. The trees begin to show their first blooms when the tree is within ten to fifteen years of its age. The colors of the tree's flowers can be a pale green or yellow. The coloring may be dependent on the temperature of the region and many other factors. There have also been occurrences of the flowers on a tulip poplar tree being white in color. This is a rare occurrence though and is not uniform across the tree's blooms. The flowers also have an orange colored segment. The appearance of the flowers is where the tree gets its name since their petals resemble tulips. The amount of nectar produced can be around a tablespoon per flower and it is why the tree is popular with beekeepers. The nectar is also popular because it also contributes to the rich and strong flavor of poplar honey.
Use as a Raw Material
The tulip poplar is also popular as a lower-cost and strong wood for furniture, flooring, and many other uses. Another popular use is as siding. In the past, it was also used as an alternative to siding made from white pine wood. It is a low-cost alternative in many respects for consumer use and applications. The tulip poplar was also used in the building of houses, cabins, and barns, as beams. This was due to its strength and resistance to termites.
Medicinal and Dietary Uses
The bark of a tulip poplar, when boiled in water, was used as a medicinal tea for treating typhoid and malaria. It was used as an alternative to quinine. The inner bark was useful in treating rheumatism and arthritis. This was also a common use of the bark of many trees within the magnolia family. The tea from the bark, when boiled down, is also useful as a cough syrup. The flowers of the tulip poplar have been used, when prepared, as an ointment for soothing skin and to aid in the healing of burns.
The oldest living tulip poplar tree, at present, is the Queens Giant in New York City. It is believed to be between 350 and 400 years old. Its age may be up to 450 years old. It is also 133.8 feet in height when it was last measured in 2005.
Tulip Poplar from the University of Kentucky Department of Horticulture
Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) from the University of Minnesota
Liriodendron tulipifera from the Floridata Plant Encyclopedia
Questions & Answers
Question: When we had our 100+-year-old tulip poplar trimmed of lower branches recently, the climber noticed a very large cavity in the trunk. The cavity is about 3x1.5 feet in size and located in the center of the upper branches. Do we need to take this tree down or will it be safe to leave alone?
Answer: It does sound like your tulip poplar is damaged and may need to be taken down. You should get a second opinion though and have a tree professional in your area inspect your tree.
Question: When is the best time to trim or prune a tulip poplar?
Answer: It is best to do it in the fall after the tree has gone dormant. The two articles below give more details on when and how to trim tulip poplars.
Question: My two-year-old tulip poplar tree has three lower limbs that do not have leaf buds. Should I cut them off?
Answer: As long as you're sure that the branches are dead then yes, you can cut the limbs off. It is best to cut off any dead, diseased, or damaged branches when you find them.
Question: Can the tulip poplar live in Georgia clay soil?
Answer: It can, but you may need to "prep" the soil first. The pH of the soil should be between 4.5 and 7.5 with 6.6 to 7.5 being the optimal pH for a tulip poplar. If needed, a product called ClayMend (and similar products) can help to improve the pH of red clay soil. Along with it, you will also want to add compost. If you have any local tree nurseries or farms that sell trees, then they may be able to give you more details and plans on how to grow tulip poplars in your soil.
Question: I live in Atlanta, and my Tulip Poplar is losing leaves already. Is this normal?
Answer: Sometimes a little bit of leaf loss is normal. Mainly because of stress due to possible drought conditions and the recent heat.
There are some tips for caring for your tulip poplar during these hot days of summer at https://www.houzz.com/discussions/1675952/tulip-po...
Question: I planted a tulip poplar in Houston, The leaves come out looking good and then start to look variegated. A local nursery told me that they thought the tree was hungry and recommended an all-purpose dry organic fertilizer. I've been feeding the trees and still get the variegated leaves which in the past year have developed black spots and fallen off, Can tell me what to do to help my tree? Each spring the leaves come out looking like the tree we had in my childhood backyard in Memphis, TN.
Answer: It's possible that your catalpa is being affected by a fungus and the continued use of 10-10-10 fertilizer will help the tree fight the effects of any disease. The page at https://plantdiseasehandbook.tamu.edu/landscaping/... gives more insight into diseases that catalpas are susceptible to.
For what's causing the damage to your tree's leaves, you may want to inquire about fungicides that are suited for treating your catalpa tree (if needed).
Question: I have a two-year-old tulip poplar that I transplanted this past summer. Unfortunately, a deer bit the top 3 inches off of it. Will it still be ok, or should I start with a new tree?
Answer: It should be fine just as long as the tree still has some branches and its height is still well above the ground.
If you haven't, you can also build a protective cage around the tree to prevent deer from causing more damage to the tree. A good video with instructions on building one is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHK735aa66s.
Question: Is it normal for a tulip poplar to drip an excessive amount of sap in the spring - to the point where many leaves are wet?
Answer: Most of the time it isn't. The excessive amount of sap may be due to insects feeding on your tree. Which can be more common when there is a wet spring, with more rain than usual, in a region. See https://www.farmanddairy.com/news/yellow-poplar-tr... to learn more.
Question: Is the Tulip Poplar a "dirty" tree that'll litter your lawn in the fall?
Answer: Yes, Tulip Poplar trees do tend to require a little more effort in the fall when cleaning up their leaves; they also drop their fruit.
Question: Do deer eat tulip poplars?
Answer: Deer will feed on the leaves, small branches, and buds of tulip poplars, but will eat from other types of trees more often. Other animals, such as squirrels, will also eat the leaves, branches, and buds of a tulip poplar.
Due to this, it is important to protect young trees and prevent animals from damaging your tulip poplar.
Question: Can you grow a Tulip Poplar from a fallen flower?
Answer: No. Instead, you can grow them from your tree's seeds or from a sapling. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/germination-requireme... has more information on how to grow a Tulip Poplar tree.
Question: I have one growing right next to my house, it has grown fast and is about 20 feet tall now. I fear it's too close to the house. How can I move my tulip poplar tree if the roots are deep?
Answer: Unless you have a lot of experience with moving large trees and the correct equipment, it's not something that should be attempted. It would be best to contact a professional company to inspect the tree and move it if needed. An idea of what goes into the process of moving a large tree can be read at https://www.deeproot.com/blog/blog-entries/the-rea...
Question: What animal would eat the bark from a poplar tulip tree?
Answer: There are a few animals that would eat the bark of the tulip poplar and other trees. You can find a list at https://wildlife-damage-management.extension.org/b... which also includes how to spot which animal has been eating the bark on your tree(s).
Question: Is it normal that smaller branches die off each year up through the canopy?
Answer: It may or may not be normal depending on the amount of dead branches. Especially since tulip poplars are susceptible to certain diseases. If you have any concerns about your tree then you may want to have your tree looked at by a professional.
Question: Is the tulip poplar susceptible to Verticillium wilt?
Answer: Short answer, yes. Tulip poplars are just one of the hundreds of trees and other plants that are susceptible to Verticillium wilt. You can read more at https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1998/3-13-1...
Question: One of my large Tulip Poplar recently fell onto another large tree beside it. When I checked further I noticed the bottom of the tree had significant rot. I had recently cleared a lot of kudzu from the same area the previous year. Any idea of how this rot began? Maybe due to the overgrown kudzu?
Answer: Kudzu can definitely cause damage to a tree that leads to rot. Not only is it known to smother out trees but the vines can also pull nutrients and moisture from a tree. Which can cause the wood to rot straight through the tree? The overgrown kudzu is the most likely culprit for what led to the rot on your tulip poplar.
Question: I have about a 40-year-old Poplar/tulip tree next to my garage. I recently found that my shingles were eaten through at the rain grooves and the wood above my gutters is rotted or gone. Is there acidity in this tree or leaves that could cause this?
Answer: It's possible that an accumulation of the sap from your tulip poplar caused the damage. You can read more about that and tulip tree scale at https://www.wthr.com/article/tulip-tree-scale-caus... where it says the sap (aka honeydew) has been known to damage the exterior of vehicles. Which means it may also cause damage to shingles.
Question: When was the Tulip Poplar chosen as the state tree for Tennessee?
Answer: The Tulip Poplar become the state tree for Tennessee in 1947. See also: https://sos.tn.gov/products/state-tree
Question: What is the use of tulip tree?
Answer: Tulip trees are useful for providing shade and for adding beauty and color to a yard. Their leaves change color into a brilliant yellow in autumn. A tulip tree is also known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Question: Can tulip poplars grow in calcareous soils?
Answer: Tulips poplars may not grow in calcareous soils due to their intolerance for chalky soils and soils that are rich in lime
Question: Is a tulip poplar tree an evergreen tree?
Answer: The tulip poplar isn't an evergreen tree and its leaves turn a brilliant golden-yellow in autumn.
Question: When can I expect my Tulip Poplar's leaves to come out this year?
Answer: It's not easy to figure when leaves will start appearing on your Tulip Poplar, but you can estimate by seeing when buds begin appearing on the branches.
© 2017 Ron Noble
Ron Noble (author) on August 11, 2019:
In autumn, after the leaves have already fallen off the tree, is the best time. Here's a useful guide on pruning your tulip poplar: https://www.hawkslandscape.com/tulip-tree-pruning-...
geoff on August 11, 2019:
we have tulip tree planted from a sapling 2 years ago in southern Ontario, Canada. it is growing quite aggressively. Looks like a 4' tall bush. Should some of the leaves be trimmed off and if so, when is the best time?
Ron Noble (author) on May 28, 2019:
Yes, it is possible to pollard a tulip poplar. The article at https://www.thespruce.com/pollarding-trees-what-it... covers the subject.
Amy Bond on May 26, 2019:
I have a tulip popular growing close to my house can i trim it and keep it small around 15 feet?