A native tree of eastern North America, the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) produces large, tulip-like flowers that grab attention wherever they grow. The tree, also known as tulip poplar, yellow poplar and tulip tree magnolia, grows into a large shade tree, requiring plenty of space when grown in gardens or landscapes.
Giants of eastern hardwood forests, tulip trees grow to well over 200 feet in height when mature. The rapidly growing trees feature squarish green leaves that flutter at the slightest hint of wind. Stunning yellowish-green flowers with nine sepals and a bright orange band appear in late May through June. After the flowers fade, fruits grow into an upright cone containing dozens of samaras (winged seeds) that float to the ground once the cone releases them. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow to gold.
Tuliptrees grow from seeds or rooted cuttings, with the trees primarily available in ball or burlap form. The trees best acclimatize to their new home when planted in the spring. The trees thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9, requiring full to partial sun in a rich, moist soil, and easily growing in wet areas near streams or creeks. After planting, water your tree regularly for at least three years, and add a layer of mulch around the tree (not touching the trunk) to help retain moisture. The tree grows even faster when you apply soluble fertilizer high in nitrogen in late summer or early spring as new growth appears.
Pests and Disease
The tuliptree is particularly vulnerable to tuliptree scale if it receives too much fertilizer. The scales, tiny insects 1/3 inch long, give infested branches a bumpy appearance, sometimes causing the branch to die. They also leave behind honeydew, which can lead to sooty mold. Controlling the scale may take several seasons. Prune back infested branches and apply horticultural oil in the spring to suffocate the winter stages of the insect. Aphids also can be found on the tuliptree, leaving behind the tell-tale honeydew that makes the leaves shiny. Use an insecticidal soap only if the tree is heavily infested.
Tuliptrees work well as ornamental trees in gardens with plenty of space or in wet areas. In temperate climates, its soft, fine-grained wood is used for wood production in the veneer and paper pulp industries. Wildlife find the tree provides plenty of food resources, including the flower buds, which squirrels find tasty. The tree's flowers produce lots of nectar for bees and hummingbirds. The mature cones of the tree provide food for a variety of birds and mammals, including rabbits, beaver and squirrels.
Native American Uses
Native Americans made canoes from the tuliptree's straight wood, so the settlers called the tree canoe wood when they first saw it. A salve made from the tree helped with inflammation and infection among Native Americans. Settlers learned to use parts of the tree to make lotions that helped with jaundice, fever, worms and bruises.