Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday's Trees- Tulip Poplar

I remember while volunteering at the York County Cooperative Extension office getting a phone call asking about a tree with tulip flowers.  This was early in my Master Gardener experience.  I thought it was Tulip Poplar, but wasn't sure.  Do you have 'knowledge' that pops into your head and you have no idea if it is correct or not?  This is where I was...why did I know this?  I guess the source of my information doesn't matter, I was correct.  Looking high into the tree, you can see beautiful creamy yellow/white flowers.  I wanted to find out more about this tree.  The Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera,  also goes by Tuliptree or Yellow Poplar, though it is not a Poplar but in the Magnolia family.  The name Yellow Poplar is because of the color of the Heartwood.

 While on our study trip last spring I had the opportunity to see these beauties up close.  There was a tree in one of the gardens with blooms on some lower branches.  The flowers bloom in the spring and are usually so high in the tree that they go unnoticed.  It is only when the faded bloom falls to the ground that you know there is a Tuliptree nearby.  The flower measures 2 inches across. 
 This is often one of the tallest trees in the forest, growing 80- 100 feet tall and lives 100- 150 years though in perfect conditions it could live up to 300 years.   It loses its lower branches as it gets taller, leaving a straight tall trunk and is a fast grower.
 The 3- 6" leaves are almost square, lobed and even margined.  Its leaf stalk is long.  In the fall these large leaves turn a strong yellow.  I thought I had a photo of the fall foliage, though I can't find it. 

 Yellow Poplar is a prolific seeder.  The flower is a perfect flower and while it can self-pollinate, pollinators are very important.  The stigmas are light colored when first emerged and are receptive to pollen.  After they turn brown they are no longer receptive...this period of time is very small-- 12- 24 daylight hours.  Seeds form in the conelike  center and winged samaras mature late summer to mid autumn.   The seeds can remain viable on the forest floor somewhere between 4- 7 years. 
 In the winter the open aggregate (composed of a cluster of carpels belonging to the same flower, as the raspberry.) appear to be tulips left on the tree.

The bark is light gray with shallow furrows, becoming darker as it ages.  As it is a straight trunk the wood is highly valued for its use in furniture and framing construction.  It is a good source of wildlife food and valued as a honey tree.  Morel mushrooms grow best under these trees.   It is the largest and most valuable hardwood in the U.S.
This tree is native to the United States, from southern New England to north central Florida and west to Michigan and Louisiana.  Some of the largest specimen have been found along the Ohio River valley and the slope of the mountains of North Carolina.  It likes moist soils and can be found along streams and river banks. 
 This photo is the pair of Liriodendron tulipifera is from my backyard.  I was thrilled to find we had one in our yard and let the builder and the landscape folks know I wanted to be sure that this tree pair was unharmed.  I look forward to seeing it this spring. 

 The main online source of information is the Forestry Service Silvics Manual, one I use quite a bit.
 I also used some of my tree books from my home library.  Taylor's Guides, Trees,   Smithsonian Handbooks, Trees,   Common Native Trees of Virginia, and Trees of the Carolinas Field Guide.

Next week's tree-- Bald Cypress.

words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.


  1. Janet,

    Hope you get a good one of the Brown Creeper, they keep moving don't they.

    Enjoyed this post greatly of a tree I'm very familiar with. I usually enjoy the poplar blooms when the wind blows them down off the tree.

  2. I should've known they were in the magnolia family but didn't. I don't have any in my garden but my neighbor has two that grow into my garden. This is by far the worst tree to garden under. I've never seen tree roots like it. White and fibrous and nothing stops it. It is most beautiful in the right spot though and I enjoy looking at it-above ground. lol It is the state tree of Tennessee and I can vouch for the self seeding. I pull oaks, tulip poplars, red cedars and pecans each year. What a job. I love these posts-mainly because I love trees.

  3. I thought they were poplars because they grew up so straight and tall. lol It's good to know they are in the magnolia family. We have a group of Tulip Poplars at the top part of our land. They are lovely trees.

  4. A gorgeous tree, Janet! Too bad the blossoms are up so high you can't usually see them, because they certainly are lovely. How nice to have two of them on your property.

  5. I don't know if I've ever seen one of these trees. The flowers are really pretty. How lucky to have one in your new yard, I wonder if you'll find any morels under it?

  6. What a shame that a tree with such gorgeous flowers holds them so high that they are hard to admire until they fall!

  7. Beautiful tree!
    I didn't knew much about it thank you for the information

  8. I love the flowers of this tree. I have only seen these trees on the internet, though. Maybe it's too hot for them here...

    Your header photo is something! I'm going to have to scroll through your recent posts and see what kind of winter weather you've had at the new place. Happy New Year!

  9. This tree has a special place in my heart ~ I grew up in Virginia with a huge one right next to our front porch. I used to create all sorts of things from the flowers! They must not grow out here as I haven't seen one since moving west. Thanks for the memories.

  10. I have only seen these in catalogs and I never believed, until you wrote it, that they could grow so tall! I bet the bees love these flowers/blooms when they are in full bloom.

  11. We have a really tall Poplar tree in the front yard by the creek. I so enjoy it and told the Saint to keep his chainsaw away from this tree or we would be headed to divorce court. Not really but you get the jest... I find seedlings all the time when walking in the woods…

  12. Most of my honey harvest this past year was from tulip trees and I think it is as good or better than the highly popular sourwood honey from my region! I absolutely agree that this is the most important tree for morel harvesting around here, too. Great post!!!

  13. Janet, you have yet again picked one of my favorites. I am sure you know, but there are places around here where they are the dominant tree species. There is a bank of them on my way to work that I look forward to seeing each fall. I know when their color peaks, winter is just a day or two away.

  14. Hi Randy- I think most folks enjoy the flowers when they drop. Glad you liked the post.

    Tina- I love finding out more about these trees. I didn't know that about the roots. Think all of us have pulled a seedling or two!

    Sweetbay- Me too! I am glad you have some Tulip Poplars on your land.

    Rose- I think it is a shame the flowers aren't lower too.

    Catherine- I will have to look for the morels, I just might have some!

    Janet- I agree, the flowers should be lower!

    fer- thanks!

    Ginger- It could be too hot there, not sure. Glad you like the header photo--- we sure have had some snow!

    Kathleen- I didn't know you grew up in Virginia, perfect place for these trees.

    Rosey- they are sure tall! The honey is coveted.

    Skeeter- Good for you!! No chain saws for these trees!

    Eliza- that is great!! I will have to explore up to Greenville and see about some of that honey!

    Les- Glad to include another of your favorite trees, maybe you should give me a list so I don't miss one.

  15. janet, some of my earliest childhood plant memories are of the tulip poplar that was in my yard. it was years before i knew those cool flowers belonged to that tree, because they were so far up in the canopy i never saw them! i love your pictures of them.


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