Liriodendron tulipifera - Yellow Poplar, also called Tulip Poplar
Family - Magnoliaceae
Size - One of our 2 tallest natives east of the Mississippi River. Often grows to 100 feet in the wild and can push 200 feet but I've never seen one this size. The Alabama state champion is located in Lawrence county and is 151' tall with a 73' crown spread and 248" circumference. In the landscape, a 100 foot tree would not be unusual but it is commonly 70 to 80 feet. Spread will be about 1/2 the height. Fast grower, 3 feet per year is certainly realistic. Pyramidal in youth, maturing to a oval rounded crown.
Foliage - Simple, alternate, 5 to 8" across and about as long, the apex (terminal end of the leaf) is very broad and truncate. Pale to bright green. Fall color is yellow which can be attractive. If the summer is extremely hot and dry and adequate water is not supplied, Tulip Poplar can begin defoliating in late July. Late August is not uncommon and the trees can become quite messy dropping foliage. Then fall color is a mixture of yellow and browned foliage.
Flower/Fruit/Seed - The flowers are actually quite beautiful but more often than not missed as they generally occur high in the tree and stand erect. They are approximately 4" in length with greenish-yellow petals. The interior is an orange color. Flowering normally occurs through May and in to June. The fruit is a stiff conelike aggregate of samaras which mature in the fall. Beware, these things can pierce a bare foot like a lance!
Bark - Brownish-gray, ridged and furrowed
Pests and Diseases - Aphids, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt,
Landscape Use - Should be used and sited with temperance. I would avoid small commercial properties and unless the room and moisture is adequate, many residential sites. Due to it's weak and brittle wood it should definitely not be used as a street tree.
Performance - 5 I give this tree this rating in reference to it's use as a ornamental. There certainly is value to it in the lumber industry as Tulip Poplar is commonly found for sale in the lumber mills nearby. Again I state that this tree should be used with extreme temperance. I had 4 originally in my yard, none exist anymore. They were constantly a source of irritation due to dropping sticks, limbs, foliage and other debris. In regard to these problems I equate it with Silver Maple, maybe slightly worse. On more than one occasion I had to clear my blocked street of the top of one which had been broken out in a storm. My neighborhood is a example of why this tree should be used with forethought; they were heavily planted and after 35 to 40 years few remain. Hiking the Appalachian Trail I have noticed beautiful Tulip Poplar in the wild. They are beautiful trees with long straight trunks which don't branch for 50 to 60 feet. Trees in urban situations (at least in the south) don't perform to that signature. Many are fairly low branched and develop considerable structural faults, ie; codominant leaders, included bark. The local municipality, at least until the last few years was still recommending this tree as a street tree. This recommendation has been changed due to the potential liability involved.