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TREES & plants

Tulip-tree

Tulip-tree flowers are shaped like tulips.

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.

Botanical name: 
Liriodendron tulipifera
All Common Names: 
tulip-tree, tulip poplar, yellow poplar, tulip-poplar, tuliptree, tulip tree
Family (English): 
Magnolia
Family (Botanic): 
Magnoliaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
70-90 feet
Mature Width: 
35-50 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage, 
  • Marginally hardy, 
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Showy flowers
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Orange, 
  • Yellow
Shape or Form: 
  • Oval, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Sapsuckers, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

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

C-Value: 5
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.

Tulip-tree (LIriodendron tulipifera)
Tulip-tree (LIriodendron tulipifera)
photo: John Hagstrom

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.

Liriodendron tulipifera or Tulip-tree