Tuliptree

Liriodendron tulipifera
Family: Magnoliaceae

Natural Historytulip tree
Flower and leaves of tuliptree
Photo credit: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Tuliptree is one of the largest of the eastern forest trees, often reaching 100 to 200 feet in height, 4-6 feet in diameter and developing a long, clear bole; topped by a broad, spreading, oblong crown. Its root system is deep and widespread. The common name comes from the showy flowers that bear a superficial resemblance to tulips. In some parts of the country this species is known as yellow-poplar or tulip poplar.

Habitat & Range

The tuliptree is commonly found in bottomlands as it prefers to grow on moist, well-drained, loose-textured soils on flats and slopes.  It is found from Massachusetts, west to Michigan, south to northern Florida and Louisiana.

Wildlife Use

Bees make honey from the blossoms, and various wildlife eat the fruit and twigs. The species is also a larval host for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Human Use

Aside from being a beautiful forest tree and ornamental, it is among the most important of southern hardwoods for the construction of several products. Its porosity, lightness, flexibility and strength makes it good for furniture, barrel bungs, aircraft, paneling and wooden novelties.  Early settlers often used the wood for building and the bark and roots for medicinal purposes.  


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: height 80' - 150', diameter 4' - 6'
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. They have a distinctive shape with 4 or 6 pointed lobes. The leaves are 4-6 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. Leaf margins are entire. Leaf surfaces are dark, lustrous green above, paler below. Leaf petioles are slender, 4-6 inches long.
Twigs: The twigs are slender, reddish-brown, sometimes purplish, with many small specks (lenticels). The pith is diaphragmed.
Bark: The bark is dark green on young stems, becoming gray with small, white patches, later streaked with narrow lines; with fine, deep furrows.
Flowers: The flowers are perfect and cup-shaped. The 6 petals are yellow to light green, with bright orange, rounded bases.
Fruit: The fruit is a cone-like structure of winged samaras, 1.5 inches long.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • People sometimes mistake tuliptree for a maple like Florida maple or red maple, but the leaf arrangement on those trees is opposite rather than alternate.

 

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