– By David Schroeder
Yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) also known as tuliptree, tulip-poplar, and whitewood, is one of the more impressive occupants of Connecticut’s forests. This member of the magnolia family is among the fastest growing and tallest of our eastern hardwoods with the potential to reach 200 ft. in height and 10 ft dbh on a good site. Connecticut’s largest yellow-poplar is approximately 7 ft dbh. and 100 ft. tall. The national champion is close to 10 dbh and 150 ft tall. The characteristic 4-lobed leaf, showy, tulip-shaped flowers and unusual fruit (cone-like aggregate of samaras) make it an easy tree to identify. Trees old enough to produce fruit (usually 15 to 20 years old) can be easily identified in the winter by the presence of the retained fruit.
We usually find yellow-poplar growing in areas with moderate soil moisture and good drainage. They do not prosper on very wet or very dry sites. Although you occasionally find it growing in pure stands, yellow-poplar is more commonly found growing mixed with other species such as red oak, black oak and white ash. It is a prolific seed producer and the seeds have the ability to persist on the forest floor for up to 10 years until conditions are favorable for their germination. On the UConn Forest we have an area that contains a few pole-size yellow-poplar mixed in with other hardwoods. We decided to try to regenerate the area to yellow-poplar by removing all the trees and shrubs and retained the yellow-poplar. Two years later thousands of yellow-poplar seedlings covered the forest floor.
Yellow poplar is a good choice for an ornamental. It is relatively free from serious pest problems, provides good shade and is attractive in all seasons. The lumberman’s dream tree, it often has a perfectly straight trunk, with little taper and few retained dead branches. Wood from yellow poplar is used for furniture, core stock, plywood, structural framing, interior trim and, in the south, pulpwood. Because of its ability to grow rapidly on good sites, yellow-poplar has the potential to be cultivated in plantations for wood fiber to be used to produce energy and paper. The large flowers provide an abundance of nectar, and tulip-tree honey is marketed as a specific product. Seeds are eaten by a wide variety of small mammals and birds and deer browse the seedlings and saplings.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.