Tulip Poplar Tree Facts, Uses, and Planting Tips

Updated on March 19, 2018
By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

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.

By Dcrjsr (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Dcrjsr (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Medicinal and Dietary Uses

Historic 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.

Sources:

http://www.hort.cornell.edu/bjorkman/lab/arboretum/trees/l_tulipifera.html

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LITU

https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/dmna/liriodendron.html

http://old.onlineathens.com/stories/101010/liv_717747141.shtml

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.

References

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

  • 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?

    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.

  • Is the Tulip Poplar a "dirty" tree that'll litter your lawn in the fall?

    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.

  • Can the tulip poplar live in Georgia clay soil?

    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.

  • When can I expect my Tulip Poplar's leaves to come out this year?

    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

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