Plant of the Month - July 2012

 Tulip Tree ( Liriodendron tulipifera)

O Tulip Tree, O Tulip Tree
What changes time hath wrought!
What scenes have passed beneath thy bough,
That fleeting age hath brought.
Tulip Tree Poem - Augustus Post, 1933.

A tall, stately tree with uniquely-shaped leaves four lobed with a flattened tip. These large leaves flutter in the breeze and at the end of the season turn bright gold. The tulip like flowers do not begin to appear for about 25 years, and are never really conspicuous. 

Liriodendron tulipifera — known as the tulip tree, American tulip tree, tuliptree, tulip poplar and yellow poplar — is the Western Hemisphere representative of the two-species genus Liriodendron, and the tallest eastern hardwood. It is native to eastern North America from Southern Ontario and Illinois eastward across southern New England and south to central Florida and Louisiana. It can grow to more than 50 m (165 feet) in virgin cove forests of the Appalachian Mountains, often with no limbs until it reaches 25–30 m (80–100 feet) in height, making it a very valuable timber tree. 

It is fast-growing, without the common problems of weak wood strength and short lifespan often seen in fast-growing species. The flowers are pale green or yellow (rarely white), with an orange band on the tepals; they yield large quantities of nectar. The tulip tree is the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. 

"Tulip tree" is certainly a misleading name for a tree that is actually a member of the magnolia family. Nevertheless, that is the name by which this handsome tree is called worldwide, due to its colorful, tuliplike orange and yellow flowers. Although no 200-foot tulip trees are known to exist today, some reports say that they did once upon a time. 

The Tulip Tree can be found in the Lower Wildeness of Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens.

How to Grow

Growing Tulip tree seedlings at home is fairly easy: Young trees can be purchased from the local nursery or garden centre. To grow your own seedlings, seeds can be gathered from mature trees, which develop seed bearing fruit during the fall season. Simply allow the seed pods to dry on the tree, then break them open to harvest the seeds inside. Of course, seeds can be purchased also, from any number of commercial sources.

Sowing Tulip trees outdoors should be done in the Autumn, either directly in the ground or in buried pots. Fall planting allows the seeds to have a period of cold dormancy over the winter that prepares them for spring germination. Soil should be loose and well drained to avoid soggy conditions that could rot the seeds or cause them to mould. If planting in containers, be sure there are large drainage holes in the bottom to prevent them from flooding during rainy conditions or when snow melts in the spring.

Starting seeds indoors is best done in the late winter or early spring. Seeds kept over the winter should be placed in a plastic bag or container, either wrapped in moist paper towelling or submerged in moist peat moss, and refrigerated to simulate the natural period of cold they would experience if planted outdoors.

Planting is best done in a sunny location, although tulip trees will tolerate light shade. Rich, well drained loam is the ideal soil for planting, but tulip trees are fairly adaptable, often thriving in less than ideal conditions. Whether transplanting purchased seedlings or ones started at home, be sure that soil is loosened well around the area for easy root growth, enhanced with a bit of compost.

Place the young tree in a planting hole that is three times the width of its root-ball, and backfill the hole, being sure to tap the soil gently around the roots to avoid leaving air pockets.

Keep the soil moist around your young Tulip trees during the first few seasons of growth, but be sure to avoid over watering, as soil that is too wet can be worse than overly dry conditions for your seedlings. Adding some support is a good measure to take, either staking or caging new trees until strong roots develop. Mulching often helps young tulip trees grow more quickly, helping to maintain moisture in the soil and discourage weeds that would otherwise compete for soil nutrients.

Pruning of this lovely tree is not usually necessary. If you wish to do any propagation from this tree, you may do so by layering shoots in spring- wait two years before severing from the parent plant.


Because of its great beauty and size, the tulip tree has a valued place in American history, as well as an honoured one in the gardens of Europe. This tree’s many folk and informal names attest to its popularity and extensive range. To many in the lumber industry it is known as the yellow-poplar. 

In Tennessee it is sometimes called canoe wood because Native Americans and early settlers carved canoes from its light, buoyant trunks. No less of a woodsman than Daniel Boone chose such a canoe to carry his own family from Kentucky to the western frontier. Tuliptree also had a wide range of medicinal uses, with many teas, ointments, and solutions being made from it. George Washington admired this tree as well, with a giant he planted in 1785 being selected as Mount Vernon’s official Bicentennial Tree. 
The flowers are very popular with honey bees, since a single tulip poplar flower has enough nectar to fill a bee’s honey stomach.  (Most other types of flowers require a honey bee to visit as many as 100 blooms to fill her stomach with nectar.) 

The honey produced from the flowers is a dark honey, amber in colour with a rich, complex flavor.  Honey has lots of health benefits, and research suggests that dark honey like tulip poplar is particularly high in antioxidants.

Be sure to find this lovely plant next time you visit the Gardens!

Thanks to:

Wikimedia Commons
Gordon Sammons 

All pictures are Public Domain.


  1. What a lovely tree Graham and great to see how productive the flowers are for bees. I will certainly be looking for some tulip trees in the Lower Wilderness when I next visit. Well done on another superb Plant of the Month post :)

    1. Thanks Caroline. It's a tree that surprisingly easy to miss believe it or not! If you are planning to visit the Lower Wilderness in the next couple of days, wellies are de rigueur. The last few days have been a bit of a challenge to the drainage!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for your feedback. The August Plant of the Month update is well under way and should be published in the next day or two. Watch this space! - Best wishes, Graham.