Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

The Tulip Tree


tulip tree noun A large deciduous tree, the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). Same as white wood, yellow poplar.
1928 Galyon Plant Naturalist 5 The king of the Smokies is the tulip tree; on the moist mountains slopes this tree reaches 10 feet in diameter, and 190 feet in height. The trunks are straight and free of branches for 100 feet. The trunks of the tulip tree are unsurpassed in grandeur of column by those of any eastern. . . Forest stands of tulip tree do not obtain, but many individuals grow thickly scatter throughout the range. 1941 Walker Story of Mt 66 The tulip-tree, or yellow poplar, is one of the most dignified and majestic trees growing . . . contrary to general belief, this tree is not a true poplar but belongs to the magnolia family. [1982 Stupka Wildflowers 38 The specific names, tulipifera, “tulip-bearing,” is appropriate, since this tree bears great quantities of tulip like flowers.]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


The tulip poplars are blooming around my house. Since the trees are so tall, it’s hard to see the flowers unless you’re looking for them. I stopped by Pap’s grave the other day and as I cleaned up around the site I found the petals of a tulip poplar. I looked up to see where the tree was and saw it along the side of the cemetery just beyond where the grass ends. If I hadn’t seen the petals I would have never known it was there. Makes me think I need to take more time to look around and up at my surroundings.


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  • Reply
    Don Davidson
    September 9, 2018 at 12:07 am

    I was born in a small southeast Missouri town named after this tree, Poplar Bluff MO. Along the streets in the older parts of town there were very large tulip poplars, as well as quite a few old magnolias. when either were blooming, they sure where a sight to see. beautiful trees.

    • Reply
      Joyce Hampton Simms
      September 20, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      I had one, I planted it close to my deck so it would shade it in the afternoon sun. It takes about 7 years before it blooms. I didn’t think it would ever bloom. So one day in July here it came, I was so excited when it did. The blooms are gorgeous.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    P.S. – if all the blossoms are up so high, how did you get that photo!?

    • Reply
      May 24, 2018 at 7:26 am

      Tamela-I used the zoom on my camera. And The Deer Hunter managed to get me one from the tree 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Such beautiful flowers …… 🙂

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    May 23, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    What a beautiful flower! In Oregon we had small pink magnolia trees that we called tulip trees.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    I had a tulip poplar in my yard a few years back. That thing was 80 feet tall and made a wonderful shade tree. But I had to cut it down due to it might fall on the house. Besides it had a large split at the bottom and I was afraid of that. Anyway, it had lots of flowers and I loved sitting on the porch in the evenings and just starring at it. …Ken

  • Reply
    Papaw Ammons
    May 23, 2018 at 10:41 am

    I have two of these trees in my yard. Since there seems to be a bit of a controversy over what to call them, Tulip, Tulip Poplar, Yellow Poplar or just Poplar, I just call mine Luther and Pauline.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 23, 2018 at 9:59 am

    By the way….all those seed pods from Magnolias as well as other tree seed n’ pods are/were used by our forefathers for Christmas decorations…My niece cut huge branches of our blooming Magnolia and used them in her wedding…theme Magnolia blossoms…green/white..etc.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 23, 2018 at 9:54 am

    Don’t want nobody messin’ with any of my trees…Better not catch anybody or any critter cuttin’ or chompin’ on my trees on our woodland hill…However, I would love to have a pond maker to hold a small pool of water and back-up our little wet weather spring…I think I could donate a few saplings to a busy Beaver for a small dam…
    We have a huge poplar…and when we first moved here in ’72 we could actually see the first blossoms on the first branches…Not anymore…way too tall…Also we have growing to a huge size a beautiful green forever Magnolia in the edge of our yard/woodland. Wind snapped the top of our Magnolia a few years ago…
    What we do have and I think may be the scourge of the South a’kin to the growth of the Kudzu is a purple Wisteria…that devil plant sent underground runners and sprung up on the lower branches of our Magnolia tree…I swear they grow a foot a day at least…Up thru the branches it went without us even noticing until….until….last Spring we came in one evening, the sun shinning on that tall green Magnolia shown purple hanging blossoms that were not Magnolia, but the scourge of the unkempt Wisteria. Who knew that devil had snuck under the lower branches and rose up like a Phoenix out of the ashes and attacked our beautiful tree…We are now in the process of trying to cut it out from the ground under the tree…Big problem…Please do not plant a Wisteria unless you have the time to keep it properly/drastically pruned and take a sharp shovel/flat sharp and cut all around the drip line of the Wisteria several times a year to keep the underground roots from traveling…That is unless you want your whole forest/woodland covered in Wisteria vine…They are good for erosion, making baskets, intoxicating fragrance, short lived beautiful blooms…but the work to keep them is back breaking…
    Thanks Tipper,
    I love my Tulip Poplar and Magnolia trees, Oaks and Dogwoods, Hollies and Ivy, Paw paws and Weeping willow, White Pines and Black Pines…all the hardwoods and soft woods…Mulberry’s and Hickory’s ….I just love trees…
    By the way can I use your Tulip tree picture for reference for a rock painting I want to do…Thanks in advance…

  • Reply
    S. Taylor
    May 23, 2018 at 9:30 am

    My introduction to the tulip poplar was when I was a kid, working beside my father in his basement woodshop. He was making wooden toys from a peculiar green and white colored wood that had an even more distinctive pungent, yet pleasant fragrance when cut. He told me the wood was poplar, tulip poplar or linden. I just knew I liked the color and the smell. Later, when I moved from the Buffalo area to Kentucky to attend Berea College, I saw the tulip poplar tree for the first time. It was tall and straight and had large four pointed leaves. Today, a tulip poplar is a major feature in my mother’s backyard where it sheds for three seasons, its pollen, petals, and leaves. I love to work with the wood for its even grain, ease of cutting and sanding, and that it takes a painted finish so well.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I’m not sure, but I think the tulip tree was used to build houses a hundred years ago or longer. An exterminator told me that most old houses were built with tulip trees or yellow poplar back in the day, as it was believed termites would not feast on them. My grandson just bought a house with a huge tulip tree shading the deck. I wonder if the builder intentionally left the tree for shade. So far, I haven’t heard any complaints about the mess it has made.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 23, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Two other plants that are easy to miss when flowering is trumpet creeper vine and crossvine because, like poplar, the flowers may be high overhead. I have a crossvine in a blackjack oak and I forget about it until I see the red and yellow bloom lying on the ground. That, and other events, have shown me that we humans do not typically look up. I expect there is a moral to be drawn from that.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A. Paule
    May 23, 2018 at 8:43 am

    They are beautiful, and like the magnolia worth the mess.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 23, 2018 at 8:08 am

    I grew up in northern Illinois and I don’t remember seeing any Tulip tree. When I moved to south central PA I noticed smaller trees that flowered in the spring and they called them Tulip trees. I had a friend that called hers a Magnolia. I thought she was badly mistaken because my grandparents down in MS had a Magnolia and that looked nothing like the Tulip tree. I thought a Magnolia was magnificent and it is but I did find out that the Tulip tree was of that family. I did not know that the Tulip tree grew so tall. I still love the Magnolia but seeing the dropping of leaves all year at my parents home did alert me to the fact that it is a tree you would have to be cleaning up after all the time. Still the beautiful cream look of that flower and the perfumed smell that permeates the air around stays with you as a fond remembrance of the Magnolia tree. When I was a little girl, I was a daddy’s girl, and I would follow my daddy as he was out squirrel hunting. I loved to get out in the forest and cross small creeks noticing the sun reflecting off the water like tiny sparkling diamonds. Now in my 70’s, I am “wowed” by the trees I see as I am driving through an area and really take notice in the winter when the leaves are gone and you can see the spectacular form of the trees. I never noticed them when I was young but I sure take notice of them now. If you travel down to Charleston, South Carolina you can go out just a little ways and see the ancient angel oak tree. Some say it is 1500 years old and some say 500. I stood in front of it and was in awe – spellbound by the size. If you google “angel oak tree South Carolina” and then click on Angel Oak Tree – free must see park near Charleston, it will bring up a site that you can click on a virtual tour video and see how large it is with people standing by it. I have walked among the Redwoods of California but I had no idea we had a tree that old on the East coast.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 23, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Tipper–There’s a lot to be said for tulip poplars. Bees love the massive blossoms and you still occasionally see some country beekeeper offering poplar honey. Miss Cindy’s concern about yellow poplar being as messy as magnolias is really not too much of a concern. It’s deciduous (so leaves fall at the “proper” time) and while it makes big seed cones or pods they aren’t as troublesome as those from magnolias. As a boy, they were mighty useful as “grenades” when we played war.

    The wood, thanks to being straight grained, workable, and of an attractive color, is cherished. One common old-time use was to make big bowls out of poplar. It isn’t bad to split and right now, sitting on my kitchen counter, is a big bread mixing bowl made of poplar. It’s probably 100 years old and was passed down through my wife’s family.

    The biggest tree I’ve ever seen in the Smokies was a yellow poplar. It’s on the side of a ridge on the Right Fork of Deep Creek near the Poke Patch backcountry campsite. An old forester who was involved in a camping trip I led years ago found it and he said it was the biggest he had ever seen.

    It is probably the most prevalent species in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (near you) and there are some giants there.

    Jim Casada

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      May 23, 2018 at 10:19 am

      I think everyone should take a look-see thru the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest….we loved it…I could just live in there myownself! So many worry about falling pods and leaves…Mother Nature takes care of all the leftovers for mulch, for feeding feathered friends, for creepy crawlers, for the little critters and for the routing bigger critters…If the two legged large (brained) headed varmints would just let them be…LOL

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney Jr
      May 23, 2018 at 5:34 pm

      I bought some Tulip honey in NC and think it was from the tulip poplar. The honey was delicious, actually the best taste of any I have bought around these parts.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2018 at 7:54 am

    The poplars AND the esteemed magnolia make unbelievable messes. I had all the magnolias cut down but there’s too many poplars. There’s always something falling from poplars, year round. The sap is worse than the pollen. And right now the tassels from the hickory trees are falling all over. By the buckets full. These hard rains everyday have helped tremendously .
    I’m too old to deal with all this mess but they don’t seem to care.
    You hit a nerve today, Tip.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    May 23, 2018 at 7:44 am

    In the Virginia Blue Ridge former hill pastures have grown up into stands of mature tulip trees, some extending far up mountain slopes. When the trees leaf out in April, these tulip forests are the hunting ground of the prized morel mushrooms–locally called “merkles.”

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      May 23, 2018 at 9:07 am

      Also known as dry land oysters….lol

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 23, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Tip, I didn’t realize that those tulip trees grew so tall. They are lovely trees but then I like most trees. I used to like magnolia trees…till I had one growing in my yard! A tulip tree would probably make a mess like the magnolia!

  • Reply
    May 23, 2018 at 6:43 am

    Seems you don’t see those trees around here as often as you use too, or maybe I need to look around more often.

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      May 23, 2018 at 9:27 am

      TMC…Look up…lol Sorry the devil made me say that! Pun intended since they are such tall straight trees…etc

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