The tulip-tree is one of the largest native trees in North America. It is a member of the magnolia family and has distinct tulip-shaped characteristic in its leaves, flowers, and fruit. The showy, goblet-shaped, orange-yellow-green flowers appear in late spring after the leaves; the cone-like seed clusters sit upright on the branches. The golden-yellow fall color of the tulip-tree makes this an excellent choice for large landscapes.
This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Residential and parks,
- City parkway,
- Wide median
- Shade tree,
- Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Acid soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Moderately Tolerant
- Highly susceptible to ice damage,
- Marginally hardy,
- Weak wood and branch structure
- Fall color,
- Showy flowers
Season of Interest:
- Late spring,
- Early summer,
- Mid fall,
- Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
- Insect pollinators,
- Small mammals,
Tree & Plant Care
Tulip-tree prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils. Tolerant of more alkaline soil.
As with all members of the Magnolia family, tulip-tree's fleshy root system prefers being transplanted in early spring, rather than autumn.
A consistent supply of moisture is necessary; tree will suffer from leaf yellowing when planted in a dry site.
Disease, pests, and problems
Aphids, scales, mildew, canker, and verticillium wilt are possible problems.
Fast growth rate causes the tree to be somewhat weak wooded.
Tulip-tree is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native throughout most of eastern United States.
Bark color and texture
Mature trees have a gray-brown trunk with deeply furrowed fissures.
Young trees have smooth, gray bark with white shallow fissures.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color
Alternate, simple, 3 to 8 inch long with a unique 4-lobed, flat-topped leaf.
Leaves are glossy green above with a pale green underside, changing to golden yellow in the fall.
Distinct, 1/2 inch long reddish-brown buds are said to resemble a duck's bill.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Attractive, 2 inch tall, tulip-like flowers are yellow-green, with an orange band at the base of each petal. Often obscured by leaves at the tips of branches.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
A 2 inch long, cone-shaped, aggregate of samaras (winged seeds). The seeds sit upright in pyramidal clusters, turning brown in October and persisting through winter.
Cultivars and their differences
These cultivars may be difficult to find.
Emerald City® tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera 'JFS-Oz'): Darker green foliage than the species; turns a clear yellow in fall. Upright, oval from growing 55 feet high and 25 feet wide.
Little Volunteer tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera 'Little Volunteer'): A dwarf cultivar, growing 30 to 35 feet high (about 1/3 the size of the species) and 18 to 20 feet wide. The leaves are also smaller than those of the species.
Upright tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera 'Arnold' or 'Fastigiatum'): A narrow form with upright branching; grows 50 feet high and 15 feet wide.