The tallest native hardwood in the United States, tulip poplar can grow upwards of 150 feet in the wild. Despite its common name, it's not a poplar, but belongs to the Magnolia family. Tulip comes from the large, tulip-shaped flowers borne high in the branches in late spring and early summer. They're greenish yellow with an orange base and usually don't appear until the tree is 1012 years old.
Tulip poplar is easily recognizable for its distinctive, pyramidal shape and 4-lobed foliage. A fast grower, this tree ascends straight as an arrow and features smooth, gray, shallowly furrowed bark. It tends to drop its lower branches as it grows, so eventually the lowest branches may be high above the ground. Bright green leaves turn bright yellow in fall. In winter, conspicuous seed cones high in the branches make identification easy. It's the state tree of Tennessee.
Because of its size, this species may not be suitable for smaller yards. It also tends to drop twigs and small branches throughout the year. Don't park cars beneath it, because aphids feeding on the leaves drip sticky honeydew.
Tulip poplar thrives in deep, moist, well-drained soil that's slightly acid to neutral. It's not a good choice for dry soil, as it responds to summer droughts by dropping yellowed leaves prematurely. It's not a good street tree either, as rising heat from hot pavement may scorch the leaves. Prune in winter.
'Aureomarginatum' ('Majestic Beauty'). Grows 4060 ft. tall and 1520 ft. wide with leaves edged in yellow.
'Emerald City.' Grows 5560 ft. tall and 25 ft. wide with glossy leaves.
'Fastigiatum' ('Arnold'). Narrow, upright form grows 5060 ft. tall and 1520 ft. wide. Great as a tall screen or vertical accent. Blooms 23 years after planting.
'Little Volunteer.' Good choice for smaller gardens; grows only 3040 ft. tall. Discovered in Tennessee.
'Tennessee Gold.' Striking gold leaves with splash of green in center. Propagated from a branch mutation by nurseryman Don Shadow. Should grow 6070 ft. tall.