The tuliptree is distinguished in many ways—from its beautiful late spring flower show and its almost equally vibrant fall colors, to its place in history and its considerable industrial value. This tree is the tallest of North American hardwoods, growing to 100 feet or more and used in making furniture, cabinetry, musical instruments, and wood veneer. In the early history of the United States, giants 200 feet tall or more were commonly found. Despite its stature, the tuliptree is perhaps most known and loved for its large, yellow and orange, tulip-shaped flowers, which bloom in May and early June. Seen from above, from a hilltop or upper story balcony, these flowers are especially stunning.
But this large tree, which is pyramidal when young and oval at maturity, maintains its beauty throughout the year. Summer leaves are shimmering green, fall foliage is bright gold, and wildlife—attracting fruit remains on the tree long into the winter. The natural range of this hardy, long-lived tree is throughout the East, from southern New England, and Michigan, southward between the coast and the Mississippi River to Louisiana and the northern half of Florida. Tuliptree makes an attractive addition to home landscapes and parks when enough space is available for so grand a tree. (Grows in hardiness zones 4 to 9.)
The Tuliptree’s Place in History
Because of its great beauty and size, tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) has a valued place in American history, as well as an honored one in the gardens of Europe. This tree’s many folk and informal names attest to its popularity and extensive range. To many in the lumber industry it is known as the yellow-poplar. In Tennessee it is sometimes called canoe wood because Native Americans and early settlers carved canoes from its light, buoyant trunks. No less of a woodsman than Daniel Boone chose such a canoe to carry his own family from Kentucky to the western frontier. Tuliptree also had a wide range of medicinal uses, with many teas, ointments, and solutions being made from it. George Washington admired this tree as well, with a giant he planted in 1785 being selected as Mount Vernon’s official Bicentennial Tree.