Tulips in the Treetops

Of course, I’m talking about Tulip Poplar, also known as Tuliptree, Yellow Poplar, Whitewood, and Tulip Magnolia – the latter common name refers to this Piedmont (and mountain) forest giant’s membership in the Magnolia family.

One look at a flower shows you the kinship with the Magnolia clan, like this one Wonder Spouse photographed that had fallen to the ground beneath the large native Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) growing within our fenced north-facing slope:

Fallen Tulip Poplar Flower

The tree this flower came from is between 70-80 feet tall, and as is typical of its species, it has self-pruned its lower branches, leaving a straight clean trunk reaching about 35 feet before the first branch appears. Right now, it is covered in the gorgeous green and orange tulip-shaped flowers that give the tree its name.  Here’s a photo of one of those flowers — still attached to a branch — that I took this morning:

As is true of all Magnolia family members, the flowers of this native tree are pollinator magnets, and Tulip Poplar honey is a favorite of many honey connoisseurs.

Tulip Poplars are not trees for small landscapes. It’s not unusual for them to reach 90 feet in height, and some specimens have been recorded at nearly 200 feet. These trees occur naturally along stream bottoms and moist forests. Mine grows on the lower half of our north slope that ends at the creek – ideal habitat.

This native is an economically important hardwood to the timber industry. Its straight trunks make excellent lumber, and large volumes of timber are harvested annually for veneer and furniture production.

I prefer my Tulip Poplars in forests rather than furniture. In winter, their tall, straight trunks provide visual interest, spring brings myriad flowers and happy pollinators, summer foliage cools everything beneath its embrace, and autumn turns the leaves a pure golden yellow that is visible along Piedmont ridge tops for many miles.

If your landscape can accommodate this fast-growing large native, and you’ve got a moist spot for it, I heartily recommend this beautiful Magnolia family member.

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  1. #1 by yaya2three on May 6, 2015 - 4:43 pm

    Where I live I have a beautiful tulip poplar but I will be moving soon and would like one on my new property. How can I harvest a seed to plant?

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on May 6, 2015 - 5:09 pm

      If you are moving soon, the seeds will not be ripe. When tulip poplar seeds are ready, the seeds float to the ground in great numbers, but that doesn’t usually happen until late summer in my area. However, this lovely native tree can be purchased from botanical gardens and nurseries that sell native plants. Your favorite search engine can likely help you when you’re settled.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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