The Plant Native

Tulip Poplar

Highlights

Tulip Poplars are magnificent native trees known for their striped, vibrant spring flowers and flower-shaped leaves. In the fall, their leaves transform into a rich buttery yellow. These fast-growing colossal giants can reach over 100 feet and have a lifespan of 200+ years. They are also ancient trees, dating back to the time of dinosaurs. Plant a Tulip Poplar and it will return generations of beauty and food for pollinators.

Sun – part sun
100′ tall!
Pollinator favorite
Liriodendron tulipidera
Gorgeous striped flowers on a Tulip Poplar in the spring

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Tulip Poplars

Table of Contents

The Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is an incredible native tree that really needs to have its own festival season. (As mentioned elsewhere on The Plant Native…why do we have cherry blossom festivals but not Redbud or Tulip Poplar festivals?!) This tree is a gem and definitely worth considering when you’re looking for a beautiful and fast-growing addition to your yard.

Tulip shaped leaves on a Tulip Poplar in the fall

Why is it called Tulip Poplar?

Its common name is Tulip Popular, given to it not because of its striking flowers, but because of its leaves. Tulip Poplar’s unique leaves look like tulip flowers, hence the name. These leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow in the fall, making them a favorite among many homeowners and landscapers. In the spring, the tree blooms with yellow and green tulip-shaped flowers, which makes it a great source of nectar for bees and other pollinators.

The incredible history of Tulip Poplars

Tulip Poplars have been found in fossils. It’s fascinating to think that some plants have been around for millions of years. Tulip Populars are some of these ancient plants. Scientists have found Tulip Popular species as far back as the Cretaceous period. There are only two Tulip Tree species that made it to today: one is our beloved North American native and….

There is only one other tulip tree around, and it’s in Asia

The Tulip Poplar is unique among trees. The next closest tulip-y tree that exists in the world is the Chinese Tulip Tree (Liriodendron Chinense), which shares quite a few similarities but is native to the other side of the globe. 

Tulip Poplars are related to magnolias, another gorgeous flowering tree with nine native species.  

You might spot a Tulip Poplar in Florence, Italy

Tulip Poplars were discovered in North America by European botanists in the 1600s and shipped back to Europe for exotic gardens. As Marjorie Harris writes in her excellent book Botanica North America, “It’s an astonishing sight to visit one of the major Italian gardens, the Boboli in Florence, and see a massive tulip tree in its full May bloom.”

And finally, Tulip Poplars are the state tree of three states!

Tulip Poplars are beloved, even at the government level. Tulip Poplars are the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Where can I plant a Tulip Popular?

These are BIG trees

When it comes to planting Tulip Poplars, there are a few things to keep in mind. These trees can grow up to 150 feet tall, so make sure you have enough space where you plant them. They also require well-draining soil and full or part sun to thrive, so be sure to plant them in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight. Additionally, they don’t tolerate compacted soil or salt spray, so be cautious if you’re planting one near a road.

Tulip Populars grow fast

The Tulip Poplar is a fast-growing tree. In the right conditions, it can grow up to 2-3 feet per year! Planting trees can oftentimes feel like such a slower process (but it’s always worth it.) With Tulip Populars, you can enjoy its beautiful appearance and benefits in a relatively short amount of time.

How long does it take for a Tulip Poplar to flower?

On average, a Tulip Poplar needs to be 20 years old before it flowers. But all that patience pays off for generations: it will continue to flower for the next two centuries. (There are some native Tulip Poplars believed to be almost 500 years old.)

Four seasons of Tulip Poplars

Let’s talk about the four seasons and how the Tulip Poplar changes throughout.

  • In the spring, as mentioned earlier, mature trees bloom with yellow and green tulip-shaped flowers
  • In the summer, the leaves provide ample shade, keeping yards cool on hot summer days
  • In the fall, the leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow, adding to the fall foliage show
  • Finally, in the winter, the tree loses its leaves, but its beautiful, straight trunk adds striking ballet-like beauty to the winter landscape

What to plant with Tulip Poplars

Pair Tulip Poplars with shrubs, smaller trees, and flowers that thrive in same light. Some examples include:

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

ninebark-5755860_1280

Ninebark

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Pawpaw Tree

redbud-tree-in-bloom-native-tree

Redbud

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Sweetshrub

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Winterberry

In conclusion, the Tulip Poplar is a stunning tree that is perfect to plant when you have lots of space for a statement tree. Its unique appearance, fast growth, and ability to thrive in the right conditions make it a great choice for any yard or park. Whether you’re looking for a shade tree or just want to add some visual interest to your yard, consider the Tulip Poplar.

Looking for other native plants to plant alongside Tulip Poplar? Right this way…

UPDATED —
04/01/2024
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