Description & Overview
Tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera, is one of the largest-growing trees native to North America. It’s known for its impressive mature stature, tulip-like blossoms, brilliant yellow fall color, and unique leaf shape.
Tuliptree grows throughout much of the Eastern United States, from southern New England to northern Florida, west throughout southern Ontario and Michigan, reaching parts of Illinois and Missouri, and south to Louisiana. While Tuliptree will not grow as large here in WI as in its native range, it’s still a sizeable growing tree that must be considered when choosing a planting location.
While the fragrant flowers are showy, blossoms can easily go unnoticed by larger individuals because they grow upright and appear after the leaves are fully developed. If you’re looking to add a Tuliptree to your landscape, it’s an excellent choice for a shade or specimen tree. Tuliptree would also be a great addition to a park needing a tree that will quickly get large.
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many insects, such as bumblebees, honeybees, beetles, and flies. The larval stage of several moth species feeds on the sap and sometimes the wood, including the Tuliptree Silkmoth (Callosamia angulifera), Promethea Moth (Callosamia promethea), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Spotted Apatelodes (Apatelodes torrefacta), White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma), Luna Moth (Actias luna), and Burdock Borer (Papaipema cataphracta).
Many birds eat the seeds, such as cardinals, robins, goldfinch, purple finch, and chickadee. Deer and squirrels are also avid consumers of Tuliptree seeds. The leaves, twigs, and branches are tender and palatable to livestock and white-tailed deer, and young trees are often heavily browsed. Rabbits also eat the bark and buds of seedlings and saplings and can sometimes be quite destructive.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker often drills holes through the bark to obtain the sap. Hummingbirds, such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird sometimes reuse the drilled-out holes left behind.
Tuliptree prefers a planting location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil with consistent moisture. While not picky about soil texture or pH, it is sensitive to drought and has a low tolerance to compacted soils. It needs a reasonably large area to live its best life due to its mature stature.
Some growers of Liriodendron tulipifera love the flowers so much that they prune this tree to be kept at a shrub size, so the blooms are more visible. This is achieved by the Rejuvenation Pruning method, which involves cutting the tree down to the ground every 2-3 years. Although, this is not the recommended care for Tuliptree and should only be attempted by experimentalists who accept the risks of potentially killing your plant.
Keep an eye out for the Tuliptree scale and Tuliptree aphid. If aphid populations are high enough, it will result in honeydew secretions on the leaves that promote the growth of sooty mold. The Tuliptree scale often causes a loss of vigor by removing large quantities of phloem sap. Scale attacks often kill the leaders of seedlings and saplings. The fast growth rate causes the tree to be somewhat weak-wooded.
The potential disease you may encounter includes powdery mildew or canker. Tuliptree is also susceptible to verticillium wilt.
Liriodendron tulipifera is known by many common names depending on your region. Aside from Tuliptree, other common names include Tulip Poplar, Yellow Poplar, and Tulip Magnolia. Despite some common names containing the word poplar, Tuliptree is not actually a poplar. Tuliptree is a member of the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae), whereas true poplars are members of the Willow family (Salicaceae)
The genus name Liriodendron comes from the Greek words ‘Leirion’, meaning “lily”, and ‘Dendron’, meaning “tree”. The specific epithet tulipifera means “tulip bearing” which refers to the flower form.
Tuliptree has a long history of being used by Native Americans as lumber or in constructing houses, furniture, paper, and baskets. The Cherokee used large Tuliptrees for dugout canoes, as the trunks could be large enough to make an entire canoe from a single log. It was an ideal tree for this purpose due to its long and straight growth habit. Although use as lumber was not as preferable as oaks and hickories, several qualities made Tuliptree desirable for crafting. The tree’s sheer height and characteristic straightness required fewer tools to process the wood into longboards and poles. Once cut, the wood is also resistant to warping and has a uniformly fine grain. The wood is also light and elastic, making it easy to work in various shapes and sizes.
Tuliptree is the state tree of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.
Because Tuliptree gets so large, it’s typically used as a stand-alone specimen or clustered in groups on large properties. It’s an excellent over-story component for smaller trees and shrubs such as Common Witchhazel, Pagoda Dogwood, American Filbert, and Glossy Black Chokeberry.