The tulip poplar is not a member of the poplar family, with its relatives being the magnolias. Also called a tuliptree or a yellow poplar, the tulip poplar has many distinctive characteristics that make it a desirable species for ornamental use--under the proper conditions. The growing conditions for this tree are not so limited that the tree will only thrive in very specific sites, but the tulip poplar will do better in certain locations.
One of the conditions that a tulip poplar does require is lots of room. The tulip poplar, notes the Ohio Department of Natural Resources site, is the tallest of the eastern forest hardwoods. Before settlers came and cut them down for their own use, some of the tulip poplars exceeded 150 feet in height. It is not rare for this type of magnolia to grow well over 100 feet tall and for the tree to have a trunk 6 feet in diameter. With trees of such height and girth, an abundance of open area is necessary.
Although the tulip poplar will grow to its fullest potential in a slightly acidic ground, this is not a prerequisite for the tree. The tulip poplar can adapt to neutral soils and even those that are slightly alkaline. The tulip poplar grows quickly when young, with the tree able to add as much as three feet per year when immature.
Moisture and Sun
One growing condition the tulip poplar cannot withstand is extremely dry and hot sites. In its natural setting, the tulip poplar will be in moist deep soil that typically drains well, often on the slopes of hillsides and in valleys. The tulip poplar does best in full sun settings, but the tree will develop in partial shade. During a time of drought, the tulip poplar’s interior leaves will begin to change prematurely to their yellow fall color. The leaves will then drop off, as the tree attempts to make it through the period until rains come. Watering the tree during droughts can prevent this.
The University of Connecticut Plant Database states that a tulip poplar has a “poorly branched” network of roots. These fleshy roots, like those of other magnolias, have a lack of root hairs. This means that when you choose to transplant a tulip poplar, the optimum time to do so is in the spring months. The tree has a much better chance of taking hold and flourishing then than it will in autumn, with the approach of winter close by.
Diseases and Aphids
The tulip poplar is very resistant to many serious diseases, with those that do affect it including root rot and verticillium wilt. The insect pest that causes the most problems is the aphid. The aphid will eat the leaves, but this is not what hurts the tree. The aphid secretes a substance called honeydew onto the surface of the foliage, which in turn serves as the host for a type of fungi known as sooty mold. While not dangerous to the health of the tree, sooty mold can make the leaves of a tulip poplar unattractive as it covers them with a blackish film.