Tree Spotlight: Tulip Tree

This month’s tree spotlight is tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), a tree native to the northeastern US. It is the Society of Municipal Arborists 2018 Urban Tree of the Year. It grows well in moist, organically rich, well drained loam (a soil mixture of sand, silt, and clay) in full sun. The tulip tree is intolerant to salt and air pollution. It can grow 60 – 90 feet in height and its crown spread is generally half of the height of the tree.

Tulip tree wood is used for furniture, plywood, boatbuilding, paper pulp, and general lumber. Native Americans used the trunks to make dugout canoes. It is a good tree for use along residential streets and in parks as an ornamental shade as it needs more soil space. It is often planted when reforesting because of its fast growth and lumber use.

The tulip tree has value for wildlife; it is a host tree to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other birds feed on the nectar released by the flowers. White-tailed deer, gray squirrels, and some songbirds eat the flowers. White-tail deer will also browse the foliage and twigs, rabbits eat buds and inner bark of young trees.

The Big Tree Program is a national initiative that tracks and records the biggest trees of each species across the country. The Vermont big tree program is based on the national program with a scoring system composed of 3 measurements: height, crown width, and circumference at breast height. The current champion tulip tree is in Bennington, Vermont. When it was last measured in 2003, its height was 116 feet, its average crown spread was 17 feet, and its circumference at breast height was 11 feet 4 inches, with a diameter of 3 feet 7 inches.


Common names: tulip poplar, yellow poplar

Height: 60 – 90 feet

Hardiness Zone: 4 – 9

Leaf: Alternately positioned, palmately veined (meaning the veins radiate from one point), generally circular in shape with 4 – lobes, 4 to 8 inches long, notched to flat top, is shaped like a tulip, and is light green to green.

Flowers: Showy, resembling a large tulip, occur high in the tree, 2 ½ inches long, yellow green petals with an orange corolla (the part of the flower where the petals meet and form a circle. Flowers appear in late spring to early summer.

Fruit: Oblong, cone like, made up of samaras (papery, winged seeds, 2 inches long), fruit matures August to October disseminating through late fall and winter.

Twig: Shiny or waxy appearance, red- brown in color. Stipules (leaf base scar) are large and encircle the twig, buds are elongated and valvate (meaning the casing meets but doesn’t overlap). The twigs have a sweet, spicy odor when broken.

Bark: Light grey – green and smooth when young, more mature bark has flat-topped ridges and white colored furrows in diamond shaped patterns. 



North Carolina State University

Virginia Tech

Missouri Botanical Garden

New York State Urban Forestry Council 

Photography Sources:

Flower - 5556816 - Ansel Oommen,

Leaves - 0008444 - Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

Fruit - 5509787- T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

Twig - 5560537 - Chris Evans, University of Illinois,