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Tulip-tree, tuliptree magnolia, tulip poplar, yellow poplar

Scientific name:
Liriodendron tulipifera

Liriodendron tulipifera is native to only eastern North America, from Canada to Central Florida. This species typically grows naturally in rich, loamy soils and along rivers.  Its closest relative is found in China. Paleobotanists, scientists who study fossils, have found extinct Liriodendron species in Europe and well outside its range in Asia and North America. There appears to have been a continuous distribution of Liriodendron circling the northern hemisphere in prehistoric times. (Wikipedia, 2006; WPS, 2006)

Tulip poplar is easily identified by its broad, lyre-shaped leaf and large tulip-like flower (See photos). Each flower has nine yellow to green tepals with a bold orange band. Numerous stamens and carpels, the male and female reproductive organs, are arranged spirally on a central cone. Mature flower buds are a favorite food of squirrels. Flowers also produce copious nectar and are valued economically as source of a honey (Wikipedia, 2006). Fruits mature into a cone-like aggregate of samaras (See photo).  These seeds are food for squirrels, rabbits, mice, beaver, and many birds (Moran, 2006; WPS, 2006).

There is a long history of tulip poplar folk remedies. It is believed that Native Americans used poplar as a tincture for inflammation and infection. In the 1800s early Americans reported uses of treating worms, jaundice, fever, bruises, and swelling.  Western medicine has since found no use for this species. (Lloyd & Lloyd, 1887)

Tulip poplar grow rapidly, and virgin trees can reach 70 m high (200 ft).  The oldest living individual is 350-400 years old and located in New York City (Kilgannon, 2004).  For this reason, it is highly valued for its timber. When early settlers arrived in America they called the tree “canoe wood” because the Indians made their canoes from it (Lloyd & Lloyd, 1887).

Today, this species is cultivated in many other temperate parts of the world for wood production (Hunt, 1998). The soft, fine-grained wood of L. tulipifera is misleadingly known as "poplar" (short for "yellow poplar") in the U.S., but marketed abroad as "American tulipwood" or by other names. Beware, this is not the tulip-wood used in cabinetry and woodwork (thats actually a brazilian hardwood). Here is perfect example of why scientific names are vital in a global ecomony.

Author: Heather Fara, University of Florida. Send comments or corrections

tuliptree map

Map: Red area indicates the native extant (living) populations. There is fossil evidence that tulip poplar was widespread across the northern hemisphere prior to glacial times. Map created by Heather Fara, University of Florida.


Photos: (a) Flower detail by Gerald D. Carr, Oregon State University. (b)Fruit, property of Oregon State University, Department of Horticulture. (c) Leaves detail by Will Cook, Duke University. (d) Tree by Douglass Jacobs, Hardwoood Silviculture Cooperative. (e) Flower, property of the University of Florida, School of Forestry and Conservation.


Hunt (ed) (1998) Magnolias and their allies. International Dendrology Society & Magnolia Society.

Kilgannon (2004) "In Obscurity, The Tallest And Oldest New Yorker" New York Times; March 24, 2004.

Lloyd & Lloyd. (1887) Drugs and Medicines of North America. Version: 10 Jan 2006. www.henriettesherbal.com/

Moran (2006) Yellow Poplar. Version 10 Jan 2006. www.fcps.k12.va.us/StratfordLandingES/Ecology/

Wikipedia (2006) Liriodendron. Version 13 Feb 2006.

WPS (2006) Wildlife Neighbors of the Williamsburg Area. Williamsburg Publishing Company. Williamsburg, Virginia. www.baylink.org/wpc/3fr_wpc.html

University of FloridaPenn StateCornell UniversitySupported by NSF