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Tuliptree

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), found throughout all of Ohio, is named for the appearance of its showy flowers and the silhouette of its large leaves, both of which resemble tulips. It is also known as tulip poplar and yellow poplar, in reference to the fluttering of its leaves like those of the poplars, and for the yellow colors of both its flowers and fall foliage. Tuliptree is the tallest tree of eastern forests with the straightest trunks, achieving heights of well over 100 feet with 4-foot diameters, when not prematurely harvested. It frequents moist woodlands and edges of fields, especially on downslopes where water drains. Its lightweight wood, often used as a base for veneer, is straight-grained, relatively soft for a hardwood, and has a faded olive-green color. Native throughout most of the Eastern United States, it quickly reaches a height of 80 feet and a breadth of 40 feet, but it can grow much taller. As a member of the magnolia family, it is related to the magnolias (including cucumbertree) and the only other tuliptree (Chinese tuliptree). Tuliptree prefers moist but well-drained, slightly acidic, deep, rich soils, but adapts to average, drier soils of neutral to alkaline pH. It is one of the fastest growing shade trees, achieving leaps of two to three feet per year in youth, when it has a symmetrical, pyramidal outline. As with all members of the magnolia family, it is fleshy-rooted without many root hairs, and prefers being transplanted in early spring, rather than autumn. It grows in full sun to partial sun and is found in zones 4 to 9. Tuliptree has one significant pest (aphids), which chew on new growth and secrete a sticky substance (known as honeydew) on the leaves, which serves as food for a sooty mold, rendering the leaves blackened with fungus and unattractive, but not harmed. Diseases that afflict tuliptree include verticillium wilt, root rot, and trunk canker. Tuliptree is one of the most common trees (the birches as a group are another) that serve as “drought indicators” by dropping their yellowing interior leaves when their soil becomes too dry during summer drought. This is simply how they cope with drought, by cutting down on the number of transpiring “water leaks.” Tuliptree is named not only after its tulip-shaped flowers, but the outline of its leaves also resembles the common spring bulbs. The large, alternate leaves have an unusual shape, with a large blade that is almost square, except for the wide notch at its apex. Each newly emergent leaf also has a stipule at the base of its petiole. The combination of the wide blade, flat base, and long petiole allows the leaves to flutter in the slightest breeze. Leaves may be chartreuse in fall coloration in off-years but are often a glimmering combination of yellow and gold in autumn. Tuliptree has the largest solitary flower of any native tree in Ohio. It is characterized by six petals that are yellow-green on the outside, and orange-yellow on the inside. Its three large sepals are reflexed at the base of the flower, and the interior light-yellow cone of reproductive structures on this perfect flower later becomes the cone-shaped fruit. Floral buds emerge with the foliage in mid-spring and open over an extended period in the tree canopy in late spring and early summer. While the perfect flowers are large, they are scattered in the fully foliaged canopy, and often only occur in the upper canopy of trees at least thirty feet tall. As such, the floral display may go unnoticed. The chartreuse fruits of summer start to shatter by mid-autumn, dispersing their seeds (actually dried winged fruits called samaras) in the wind, or serving as food for hungry birds, squirrels, and other mammals in winter, when some still remain. Winter terminal buds are valvate, meaning that the two outer scales fit next to each other like a duck’s bill. Tuliptree is very fast-growing and straight trunked and has smooth gray bark that becomes striated (having vertical lines) before it develops the deep fissures and tall, interlacing ridges that characterize the mature bark of this species.