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Growing Tulip Trees

Updated on January 23, 2014

If you're looking for a fast-growing, disease resistant tree, consider growing tulip trees.  Not only do they provide a beautiful green shade canopy, they also produce some beautiful, tulip-shaped blooms in the springtime.

Tulip Tree Bloom

A tulip tree bloom.  Photo by Jslobojan at Dreamstime.com.
A tulip tree bloom. Photo by Jslobojan at Dreamstime.com.

Tulip Trees as Specimens

The tulip tree has been favored as a specimen tree by parks and zoos for decades. It grows quickly and while young, has a pyramid shape. In the fall, the leaves turn a yellow color, which adds interest when other trees have already lost their leaves.

In the springtime, the tree will bloom, seemingly all at once. The tulip-shaped flowers range in color from a pale pink to pastel yellow. This is when the tree most resembles a magnolia, which is its relative.

Taxonomy

The Liriodendron tulipfera is best known as the "tulip tree." However, it is also known by a variety of other names including canoewood, whitewood, tulip magnolia and yellow poplar.

While the tulip tree is often referred to as tulip poplar, it isn't a true poplar. It is related instead to the magnolia tree. A related species is the Lirodendron chinense - a small, Chinese variety. A few of the widely known cultivars are as follows:

  • L. tulipifera Aureomarginatum
  • L. tulipifera Fastigiatum
  • L. tulipifera Glen Gold
  • L. tulipifera Mediopictum

There are other cultivars, including many hybrids. Check your local nursery or gardening center for the latest varieties available.

Diseases and Pests

The tulip tree is resistant to most diseases.  It has few pests, except for aphids, Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae, tulip tree scale, Columbian timber beetle, rootcollar borer and the yellow poplar weevil.  It is susceptible to several forms of fungi, canker and root rot diseases.  These diseases are often due to humid conditions and draught, which do not usually occur in the forests of eastern North America.

Where to Grow Tulip Trees

The tulip tree can be planted with success in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. The tulip tree favors slightly acidic soil that is coarse to medium and slightly moist. (If you have a stand of pine trees, the tulip tree could be planted nearby because of the acid soil).

The tree needs full sun to grow, and will quickly eclipse smaller trees planted nearby. For this reason, plant them 10-15 feet away from other trees.

It can grow in any area, from hillsides to flat areas due to its wide-spreading root system. Because of this, it is not advisable to plant it near a pool, home or septic system. In addition, it is not advisable to plant it near streets because it is not resistant to pollutants and limbs frequently break when covered in ice.

Height and Life Span

The tulip tree species Liriodendron tulipfera can grow to incredible heights, often in excess of 150 feet tall. Tulip trees are a very long-lived tree, often spanning two or more centuries. Thomas Jefferson grew one such tulip tree at Monticello, which finally succumbed to a root rot disease in 2008.

Tulip Tree Uses

Aside from being a landscape tree for those with very large backyards or for the small farmer, the trees are grown for their lumber. The wood is used in a variety of applications, usually where it won't come into contact with water, as it is susceptible to fungus and rot. The wood is also valued for use as veneer.

The trees need to be harvested every 10-12 years, depending on consistent growing conditions. Thinning may be needed after a stand of trees is established. It is difficult, if not impossible, to burn down the trees to clear them, as their bark is very resistant to fire after the trees are approximately 3 years of age.

Comments

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    Gloria 6 years ago

    Alessandra is right.

    I am fortunate to enjoy this beautiful tree on my property.

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    Alessandra 6 years ago

    The photograph is NOT a real tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). You posted the photo of a Magnolia liliflora, also called tulip magnolia.

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