What Is It Wednesday: Tulip Tree

Name: Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Also known as: Yellow Poplar (in terms of lumber)

Tulip Trees are fast-growing and are one of the taller trees that grow in southern Ontario. Most trees reach a height no greater than 20-30 m, but Tulip Trees, along with a few select others, reach heights of 35 m, sometimes greater. This majestic species can live up to 300 years, if given the time and room to grow. They are not related to Tulips (Tulips belong to the Lily family, whereas Tulip Trees belong to the Magnolia family), but somehow have leaves and flowers shaped like tulips. Odd, yes, but convenient for identification. The leaves of this tree grow to be 7 to 12 cm in length and are light green with 4 lobes that draw out the resemblance of a flat tulip. It’s 6-petaled flowers are yellow-green with an orange base. The flowers bloom in the summertime between May and June for at least a month but depending on the age and size of the tree, there may not be any flowers to be had. This is because it can take 15 years for a Tulip Tree to mature. Even once flowers are produced, they may still be out of sight as they tend to start blooming at the crown of the tree first before covering its whole length. Amazingly enough though, once a Tulip Tree starts producing flowers, they continue to do so every year for the rest of their (hopefully) long-lived life.

Full or partial sun and moist sandy or sandy loam soils are the minimum preferences of Tulip Trees, which are typically found in forests unless planted elsewhere. In Southern Ontario, we are very fortunate to have Tulip Trees as a part of our native plant repertoire. We are in the most northern extent of its native range, otherwise known as the Carolinian zone (see Figure 1). The Carolinian zone represents on 1% of Canada’s land area but is home to 1/3 of its rare, threatened, and endangered species and is the most biodiverse ecosystem in all of Canada. Most of TTLT properties lie within the Carolinian zone, including Lusty Family Woods, one of the seven properties that are part of the Vision 20/20 Campaign.

Fun Fact: Tulip Trees are Daria’s favourite tree (side note: Daria is TTLT’s Acting Executive Director). Her property has quite the collection – 7 trees in total!

Figure 1: Carolinian zone of Canada (https://caroliniancanada.ca/about).