Tulip Tree

Liriodendron tulipifera


Illustration of tulip tree leaves, flowers, fruit
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera)
Paul Nelson
Other Common Name
Yellow Poplar; Tulip Poplar

Magnoliaceae (magnolias)


Tulip tree is a large, stately tree with a long, clear trunk and a pyramidal crown.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 4–6 inches long and broad, tip notched or V-shaped at the center, with 2 lobes near the tip and 2 or 4 lobes on the lower sides; margin entire, lobes pointed; leaves turn clear yellow in autumn.

Bark is gray at first, thin, tight, later gray to brown with rounded ridges and long, deep grooves.

Twigs are stout, brittle, greenish- to reddish-brown, sometimes with a whitish coating, aromatic, bitter; pores pale; end bud flattened, resembling a duck’s bill, ½ inch long.

Flowers May–June; large, showy, greenish-yellow, orange-banded at the base, waxy, tulip-shaped, 3–4 inches across, with 6 upright petals; stamens numerous, long.

Fruit matures September–October; brown, woody, conelike, longer than broad, tapering to a point, 2–3 inches long; seeds numerous, winged, light brown, about 1½ inches long.


Height: to over 100 feet; spread: to 40 feet; trunk diameter: to 6 feet.


Photo of a tulip tree, showing many leaves
Tulip Tree Leaves
The leaves of tulip tree are very distinctive. Some people say they look like the outline of a cat's head.


Tulip tree with leaves showing fall color
Tulip Tree In Fall Color
Tulip trees, though native to only southeastern Missouri, are popular statewide as landscaping trees.


Photo of the trunk of a mature tulip tree, showing bark
Tulip Tree Bark and Trunk
The bark on a mature tulip tree is gray to brown, with rounded ridges and long, deep grooves.


Photo of a tulip tree fruit cone, held in a hand
Tulip Tree Fruit Cone
The fruits of tulip tree are woody, brown, conelike structures. The seeds that develop along the central axis are winged.


Closeup of tulip tree leaves showing yellow fall color
Tulip Tree Leaves, Fall Color
The interesting "cat-shaped" leaves make tulip tree easy to recognize. The leaves turn clear yellow in fall.


tulip tree
Tulip Tree


Photo of yellow poplar tree
Yellow Poplar
Habitat and conservation

At Crowley’s Ridge, occurs in moist woods of ravines, in upland woods, and along streams. Along the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri, occurs at the base of wooded bluffs. An important ornamental tree for lawns, parks, and cemeteries. One of the most attractive and tallest of eastern hardwoods. Fast-growing. In cove forests in the Appalachians, it can reach 300 years old.

image of Tulip Tree Yellow Poplar Tulip Poplar distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs naturally in southeastern Missouri, but widely planted statewide.


One of our most valuable trees. Tulip tree is in the magnolia family, but early lumbermen called it "poplar" because its wood is lightweight, like that of poplars and birches (which are in different families). In cultivation, this tree grows rapidly in good soil, has excellent form, and is disease resistant. It will not grow in the shade.

Human connections

An important landscaping tree. The wood is used for veneer, plywood, crates, furniture, cabinets, musical instruments, and more. Native Americans used bark tea as a remedy for numerous ailments. An alkaloid extract from the bark was once used as a heart stimulant.

Ecosystem connections

The seeds are eaten by at least 10 species of birds, as well as by squirrels and other small rodents. The leaves are eaten by deer and rabbits. It is a favorite nesting tree of many birds. A considerable amount of nectar is produced and harvested by bees.