The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), also known as yellow poplar, is a fast-growing tree that has a life expectancy of 300 years if growing in optimal conditions. In urban/suburban settings, most specimens will more likely live between 100 to 200 years. Tulip poplars are not poplars but members of the magnolia family. They are tall, fast-growing shade trees that easily grow to 70 to 90 feet and can grow to more than 100 feet. They are considered relatively hardy trees with few insect and disease problems. With proper planting and maintenance, you can help your tulip poplar live longer.Tulip poplars have attractive green leaves that are tulip-shaped. The flowers also resemble tulips–they are yellow with touches of green on the six petals and bright orange in the interior. Often the flowers are too high up in the tree to see and appreciate. The trees do not flower until they are 15- to 20-years old. By then, the tree may be as high as 40 feet. Young trees have smooth grey bark which later becomes very furrowed as the trees mature. A cone-like structure produces the seeds, which are winged samaras, in August in the north and as late as October in the south. Tulip poplar is a prolific seed producer but only a small percentage of the seeds will be viable.
Tulip poplars grow best in moderately moist, well drained and loose textured soils that are slightly acidic (pH 6.0 to 6.5). They are native to North America and recommended for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. They grow faster and higher in more southern locations. Tulip poplars can be purchased from nurseries and transplanted balled and burlapped in the spring. They may grow 15 to 20 feet in a six- to eight-year period. Choose an open location with full sun. They are not recommended for small residential properties or streets.
Because tulip trees are fast-growing they are moderately weak wooded making them susceptible to wind or ice storms. Broken tree limbs make trees more susceptible to wood rots. Prune off dead or broken limbs to prevent wood rot fungi from entering the trunk of the tree. When pruning limbs, always prune back to the branch collar. The branch collar is a slightly raised area between the trunk of the tree and the limb. Do not cut into the trunk of the tree to prevent insects and diseases from entering. A nice, even cut at the angle of the branch collar encourages the tree to callus over (heal) naturally. Tulip poplars naturally prune their lower limbs as they grow. The first limbs on a tulip poplar may be quite high up in the tree. For safety reasons, it is better to hire a professional arborist to climb the tree and carry the heavy equipment needed to trim the higher branches. Branch trimming is best done in the dormant season in winter or early spring.
One of the most important poplar tree facts is the sheer size of the tree. It rises to between 50 and 165 feet high with a trunk diameter of up to 8 feet. You must be sure that your tree will have sufficient room to grow to its full size.Poplar wood is readily available in many home improvement stores and is sometimes sold as “yellow poplar” or “tulip wood.” It is nearly as easy to work with poplar wood as it is to work with softwoods such as pine; however, poplar is considered to be a hardwood.Hybrid Poplar One of the most recommended fast growing shade trees is the hybrid poplar, which can grow up to 8 feet per year, and mature at about 40′ to 50′ high.White oaks produce new growth of 10 to 15 feet in a span of 10 to 12 years, and despite growing slowly, they enjoy long lives of over 100 years. Southern red oak trees, on the other hand, grow at moderate to fast rates, reaching full heights of 70 to 80 feet over a period of 20 years.