Tulip trees are native to the eastern United States, and they're absolutely beautiful, large landscape trees. Seeing the tulip-shaped flowers, it's easy to see where they got their name. If you live in the Eastern part of North America (or really anywhere that isn't too hot or dry), you might want to consider adding this tree to your landscape.
Also called tulip poplars, tulip trees (Liridendron spp.) are very large shade trees. They can grow to up to 130 feet tall and 60 feet wide, and young tulip poplars can grow as much as two feet in height per year.
Part of what makes the tulip tree such a lovely addition to the landscape is its strong, almost symmetrical branching pattern. Even in winter, when the leaves and flowers are gone, the structure of the tree (as well as its deeply grooved bark) provides plenty of interest and structure. The leaves of the tulip poplar are a pretty, medium green color and are deeply lobed, with four points, the top two almost looking like cats' ears. In autumn, the leaves turn bright, golden yellow.
And then there are the flowers, which appear in mid to late spring. They look like greenish-yellow tulips with bright orange at the base of each petal. The flowers measure about two inches in diameter.
Planting Tulip Trees
Tulip trees are hardy in Zones 5 through 9, which means they will grow anywhere in the continental U.S. other than the coldest, most northerly or high elevation places, like North Dakota or around the Rockies, and subtropical places like Miami or Los Angeles.
They are water lovers, and while they are not as commonly grown in the West, they do just fine if they have ample irrigation. However, it's generally not recommended to plant them in desert regions.
Placement in the Landscape
Plant tulip trees in spring or fall to allow them to weather the shock of transplanting while temperatures are cool. Plant them at least 20 feet from any foundation or paved surface as the powerful root systems are known for causing damage.
Tulip trees like rich moist soil and should be watered and mulched regularly for several years after planting. They make great backyard shade trees and are best on larger properties where they are not out of proportion to the size of the landscape.
Tulip Tree Pests and Problems
Aphids are highly attracted to tulip trees. They are not life-threatening to the tree, but they secrete a sticky substance that then becomes colonized by a sooty black mold and drips onto everything that is under the tree. For this reason, it is recommended to plant them where their branches will not grow to hang over parking areas and paved surfaces.
Tulip trees are also very sensitive to drought. During hot, dry periods, the leaves may turn yellow and fall off prematurely; if this occurs repeatedly, it will slowly weaken the tree, shortening its lifespan. A deep monthly soaking in dry years is necessary to keep tulip trees healthy.
A Stunning Native Tree
Tulip poplars are definitely not a tree for every property, but they are one of the most refined shade trees available for gardeners with the space to grow them. And, if you enjoy providing habitat for wildlife, your local butterflies and pollinators will thank you for planting a tulip tree; tulip poplars are host plants for eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies, and hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the blooms as well. If you have the space, tulip trees are definitely worth considering.