The tulip poplar tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a deciduous, native tree found extensively throughout most of eastern United States. Also referred to as tulip tree and yellow poplar, the tree has a broad, columnar mature form. The tree is prized for its timber, and though the wood is not as sturdy as that of hardwood, it is smooth with minimal scars and knots. Optimal growth of the tulip poplar depends upon providing it the right cultural care in accordance with drought tolerance.
Tulip poplar trees grow in rich woodlands and bottomlands in its native habitat. The tree is sensitive to drought and requires regular irrigation. Tulip poplar has a especially high water requirement during summer.
The tree has a mature height of up to 100 feet with a trunk diameter ranging between 4 to 6 feet. The 1 1/2-inch-wide and 2 1/2-inch-long, yellowish-green, cup-shaped flowers are the distinctive feature of the tree. The spring blooming flowers resemble tulips and are followed by cone shaped fruit. The 6-inch-long leaves are square lobed.
Plant tulip poplar in a moist, fertile, well-drained soil and in an area of full to partial sun. Propagation of the tree is moderately easy with seed. Tulip poplar is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. The large size of the tree makes is more well suited for use as a shade tree in larger landscapes. Avoid transplanting larger sized trees as the shallow root system does not let the tree get reestablished for at least a few years.
Varieties of the tulip poplar include aureomarginatum with yellow margins around the foliage. The variegation gives the tree an overall yellowish look when viewed from a distance. Fastigiatum is another widely used cultivar with a relatively smaller size and a more compact, flat topped mature form. Given its compact size, fastigiatum is a better choice for a suburban garden, according to the Floridata website.