Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Tulip Trees are often described as majestic, and it is no wonder. They are the tallest eastern deciduous trees growing in the wild--as tall as 200 feet. Although they are shorter when grown in a landscape setting, they retain their trademark, ramrod straight trunks, typically branchless until 2/3 the way up. Related to magnolia, they are one of the earliest trees to leaf out in spring. Their distinctive leaves, broad as long, the squarish shape suggesting a cat’s face, the top 2 lobes resembling the cat’s ears, or a keystone, help to easily recognize Tulip Trees. Their flowers are greenish-yellow tulips with an orange blotch in the center. Although the flowers are 2 to 3-inches wide, the leaves, especially high in the canopy of mature trees, obscure the flowers. Often the only evidence they have bloomed is dropped-petals on ground. However, the honeybees know when they flower and produce wonderful honey from Tulip Trees. Tulip Trees are considered to be drought indicator plants, they are among the first to show stress, yellowed leaves in August and September, from lack of rain.
Also known as Tulip Poplar or Yellow Poplar, Tulip Trees are not without their drawbacks. Their nectar filled flowers attract aphids and promotes unsightly sooty mold. Their ability for self-cleaning means that they drop twigs and branches readily. Other nuisance debris consists of leaves, flower petals, and abundant hard seeds that germinate with abandon.
Daniel Boone used a Tulip Tree for his 60-foot canoe. Tulip Trees indicated to pioneers the location of the best farming soils. Thomas Jefferson, a great admirer of trees, planted thousands at Monticello. Today only about a half-dozen remain. Of those, two are magnificent Tulip Trees. One has 7-foot diameter trunk. Jefferson called Tulip Trees the “Juno of the woods.”
These large trees offer unique bluish-green leaves in summer and a spectacular show of yellow color in the fall. Their distinctive leaves, broad as long, the squarish shape suggesting a cat’s face, the top 2 lobes resembling the cat’s ears, or a keystone, easily recognize Tulip Trees.
Tulip Tree flowers bloom in late May with displays of tulip-shaped greenish-yellow and orange flowers. The flowers attract hummingbirds, honeybees and butterfly larvae.