Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip Tree

Origin and Distribution

Liriodendron is native to eastern North America. Its natural area of distribution ranges from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Nowadays the tulip tree is cultivated worldwide and can handle a wide amplitude of growth conditions.


The tulip tree is deciduous and can reach a height of 25-35 meters and a width of 15-20 meters. In its youth it grows very quickly, when it gets older the growth will slow down. It has an upright trunk and initially builds a narrow, pyramid-shaped crown. When Liriodendron gets older, the crown is expanding and gets a picturesque appearance.

The tulip tree prefers fertile, deep, moist but well-drained soils in warmer locations. It is resistant to frost, but sensitive for late frost. It is advisable to plant the tree at a young age and during spring time, as its thick fleshy roots are very vulnerable. Liriodendron feels most comfortable at sunny locations.

The tulip tree can be easily recognized by its distinctive leaves which are big and leathery with four lobes. From the end of May until the beginning of July tulip-shaped flowers appear on older trees which are sulphur to green-yellowish in colour and orange from underneath. After the florescence 6 to 7 cm long cones will remain at the tree. The Tulip tree’s mighty growth, its strikingly shaped leaves and its tulip-shaped flowers make it very unique.

Interesting Facts

In the Americas Liriodendron is a valuable timber. It is suited for the production of plywood, veneers, piano and harmonica parts and pipe organs. In its native habitat the tree can reach an age of 500 to 700 years. The tulip tree belongs to the magnolia family. According to many botanists the first flowering plants were part of this old family. That’s why Liriodendron is often called the “grand dad” of all flowering plants. It is a valuable tree for the forestry sector as it develops a narrow poplar-like growth and the knotless part of the tree can reach a height of up to 10 m. “Yellow poplar” is a frequently used name for the tulip tree in America.

Garden Design

Tulip trees are used as prominent specimen trees, but can also look great in groups for example as alley trees in bigger parkways. Liriodendron is a very large tree that is only suited for bigger private gardens that have enough space for its beautiful shape. The Tulip tree’s bright yellow autumn colouring matches very well with reddish coloured plants, like red maple or red oak or American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) that turns wonderfully red in autumn.