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What Does a Tulip Tree Look Like?

By Jacob J. Wright
Tulip tree foliage turns golden yellow in autumn.
Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of John Talbot

Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, is a tall deciduous tree that naturally is found in the woodlands of the southeastern United States. The four-lobed leaves are its distinguishing feature as are the tulip-like orange and pale, yellowish-green flowers that appear in late spring.

Form and Size

The Tulip tree is a large tree with a massive trunk. At maturity it can grow 70 to 100 feet tall with an irregular but architecturally interesting branch structure. Overall the trees are shaped like a rounded pyramid when young and attain an upright, oval shape in the leaf canopy when older.


Bright green in color, the leaves of a tulip tree are arranged alternately on the stems and branches. Each leaf blade is 5 to 8 inches long and wide and has four pointed lobes. The leaf has a tulip-like shape in some people's view. In autumn the leaves turn shades of yellow and gold. The foliage is absent in winter.


In late spring, branch tips can display small, 2 to 3 inch flowers that resemble tulips. The petals are yellow-green with the flower center orange.


The flowers become large, tear-drop shaped fruits at the ends of branches that are yellow-green in color. As the fruits ripen in early autumn, they split open to release seeds. The fruits dry to brown in color and persist on the tree branches after the foliage drops away in autumn.


The tulip tree's bark on its large trunk is colored light grayish brown. It is corky and is in vertical to slightly wavering vertical furrows. In the bottom of the furrows the bark has an even lighter gray tone.


About the Author


Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.