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The tuliptree is one of the largest native trees in North America. It is a member of the magnolia family and has distinct tulip-shaped flowers. The showy, goblet-shaped, orange-yellow-green flowers appear in late spring after the leaves; the cone-like seed clusters sit upright on the branches. The golden-yellow fall color of the tuliptree makes this an excellent choice for large landscapes.  This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Magnolia
  • Family (botanic) Magnoliaceae
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 70-90 feet
  • Mature width 35-50 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil
  • Season of interest late spring, early summer, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Orange, Yellow
  • Shape or form Oval, Pyramidal, Round, Upright
  • Growth rate Fast
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Highly susceptible to ice damage, Marginally hardy, Weak wood and branch structure
  • Wildlife Insect pollinators, Sapsuckers, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

C-Value: 5.  Native throughout most of eastern United States.

Bark color and texture:

Mature trees have a gray-brown trunk with deeply furrowed fissures.  Young trees have smooth, gray bark with white shallow fissures.  Distinct, 1/2 inch long reddish-brown buds resemble a duck’s bill.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color:   

The alternate, simple leaves are 3 to 8 inches long, with a unique 4-lobed, flat-tipped shape.  Leaves are glossy green above with a pale green underside, changing to golden yellow in the fall.  

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Attractive,  2 inch-tall, tulip-like flowers are yellow-green, with an orange band at the base of each petal. Often obscured by leaves at the tips of branches.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

A 2 inch-long, cone-shaped, aggregate of samaras (winged seeds).  The seeds sit upright in pyramidal clusters, turning brown in October and persisting through winter.

Plant care:

Tuliptree prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils. Tolerant of more alkaline soils.  As with all members of the Magnolia family, tuliptree’s fleshy root system prefers being transplanted in early spring, rather than autumn.  A consistent supply of moisture is necessary; tree will suffer from leaf yellowing when planted in a dry site.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Aphids, scales, powdery mildew, canker, and verticillium wilt are possible problems.  Fast growth rate causes the tree to be somewhat weak-wooded. Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Emerald City® tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘JFS-Oz’):  

Darker green foliage than the species; turns a clear yellow in fall.  Upright, oval from growing 55 feet high and 25 feet wide.

Little Volunteer tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Little Volunteer’):

A dwarf cultivar, growing 30 to 35 feet high (about 1/3 the size of the species) and 18 to 20 feet wide.  The leaves are also smaller than those of the species.

Upright tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Arnold’ or ‘Fastigiatum’):  

A narrow form with upright branching; grows 50 feet high and 15 feet wide.

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