Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
Tulip Poplar, Yellow Poplar
Few eastern American landscape trees reach great heights as quickly as the tulip or yellow poplar. This remarkably fast-growing tree is also substantially strong-wooded and long-lived (one of the oldest known specimens exists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is believed to be over 500 years old). It has an upright trunk, develops a pyramidal or oval canopy and has a broad distribution—from Ontario down to the American South. Young trees are quite shade tolerant, so they can withstand the low light of the forest understory. This pioneer species also populates old fields in solid stands. Its valuable lumber is construction grade and used for plywood, pulp and veneer.
Tulips poplars have some of the most distinctive leaves of any tree. They are large, medium green and lyre-shaped and turn shades of yellow in fall. Aphids are attracted to the leaves and ants tend to them and eat their honeydew. Equally unique tulip-shaped chartreuse and orange flowers appear in spring or early summer. They are pollinated by bees and other insects. Conical, brown, woody, aggregate fruits mature by fall and often remain on the trees into winter before they shatter and their elongated seeds fall to the ground.
Tulip poplar is a hugely adaptable tree. It grows in all sorts of soils, though it prefers rich, well-drained soils with a slightly acid to neutral pH, and will withstand low-light when young, though it grows best in full sun. It may drop twigs, particularly in inclement weather, and the aphids that favor its leaves drop sticky honeydew, so don’t park your car under it in summer. The mildew also causes the leaves to develop sooty mold on the surface. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy tree to grow. Its shallow roots make it difficult to garden under, so it is best planted as a it large shade and lawn specimen tree for open lawns and public spaces. Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) and the tulip tree silkmoth (Callosamia angulifera) use this plant as a food source for their caterpillars.
Two smaller, more slow-growing cultivars include ‘Arnold’ (or ‘Fastigiatum’), which has a columnar shape and the variegated, ‘Aureomarginatum.’
AHS Heat Zone
9 - 2
USDA Hardiness Zone
5 - 9
1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
Full Sun, Partial Sun
60'-90' / 18.3m - 27.4m
35'-50' / 10.7m - 15.2m
Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, Central United States