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Jerusalem Artichoke - Helianthus tuberosus - Earth Apple - Whitecliff Park St. Louis MO US

Tulip Poplar Tree - Planted by George Washington

Updated: May 12, 2022

Botanical: Tulip Tree (Liriodendron Tulipifera/Tulip Poplar)

A member of the Magnolia family, known for massive height and sturdy wood.


Zone: 4-9 Typically found in the Eastern United States.

Height: 90-120 feet, one of the largest trees native to North America, may grow as much as 24 inches in one year. Branches begin rather far up and the straight trunk is often arranged symmetrically. Sun: Full-sun to partial-shade. The sunnier the area where planted, the better; however the tulip tree may suffer in extreme heats

Soil: Prefers slightly acidic, well-drained, deep soil amended with plenty of compost. Can handle clay, sandy, or loamy soils as long as the soil doesn't hold water too long. Newly planted trees respond well to fertilization, older trees do not require it. Mulch 2-4 inches at trees base for moisture retention.

Poplar has been studied as a phytoremediation in cleaning of soils, large root systems absorb large quantities of water. Carbon tetrachloride, a well-known carcinogen, is easily absorbed by the roots. Poplar may also degrade petroleum hydrocarbons like benzene or paint thinners that may have been spilled into soil. (Countryside Magazine Contributor)

Water: Prefers slightly acidic, well-drained, deep soil amended with plenty of compost. Can handle clay, sandy, or loamy soils as long as the soil doesn't hold water too long. Water regularly during hot spells and keep an eye on the leaves. It prefers normal moisture levels, however the tulip tree may tolerate drought in locations with high humidity.

Bloom: April to June come spectacular spring blooms – yellowish green to orange cupped fragrant flowers up to 2-3” in diameter.

Fruits: Cone-shaped fruit (samaras) that release winged seeds.

Leaf fall: Notorious for flower petal litter just after blooming. Leaves are tulip shaped and may get up to 8”. Leaves turn golden yellow come fall. Tulip trees start out in a pyramid shape then matures to an arching dome except where sun is limited. Low light makes branches skinny and weak.

Root: Fleshy root systems stay close to the tree, so well worked soil is essential at planting.

Attracts: Pollinating insects and birds: bees, hummingbirds. A host plant for tiger and spice bush swallowtail butterflies.

Propagation: From a cutting: 18” or longer, cut outside of the swollen area where it attaches to the tree. Place in 8” of soil & keep in moisture. Make sure planter accesses bright, indirect light, the tree should be ready for transplanting in spring. May propagate from trees samaras in the fall, may be used to propagate trees the following spring. Pick samaras after they turn a light beige color. Dry a few days and let seeds separate naturally from the fuit. Stratification: Keep moist in a cold place 60-90 days, or until spring. After the last frost transfer seeds into pots or sow directly into the ground in an area with well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Bury seeds no deeper than three times the length of the seed. Do no over water.

Pruning/Harvesting: Pruning is imperative to keep them shapely and under control due to fast growth. Remove dead or weak branches in late winter and early spring (before flowers have formed), thin every couple years.

Medicinal: Intensely acrid bitter inner bark, especially of the roots, is used domestically as a diuretic, tonic, and stimulant. Raw green bark is chewed as an aphrodisiac. Bark contains 'tulipiferine', which is said to exert powerful effects on the heart and nervous systems. Tea is made for treatment of indigestion, dystenery, rheumatism, coughs, fevers. Externally tea is used as a wash a poultice on wounds and boils. Root bark and seeds have both been used to expel worms from the body. The root has a lemon-like flavor in spruce beer, and may correct bitterness. Pleasant and pungent scent.

Random facts: Early settlers used yellow poplar for rail road ties and fence posts. Favored by Native Americans and explorer Daniel Boone for making canoes, George Washington even planted several tulip trees at Mount Vernon. Gold colored dye is obtained from bark. Wood- fine grained, soft, light, easily worked, durable, brittle, not strong but doesn't split. A valued timber, used for interior finishes, furniture, construction, and plywood.

Hazards: Fast growth results in relatively weak limbs, a potential hazard in storms. Intolerant of salt, making them mostly unsuitable for coastal locations and places where road salt is used. Honeydew secretions attract aphids as does the sticky sap, avoid planting where cars are parked. Victim to canker diseases and poplar weevils. Grow with an antifungal plant and pest controlling plant. Lady Beetles or pirate bugs are natural predators if aphids are a problem. Prone to cankers, which are discolored depressions or deformities resulting from fungal or bacterial infections. When identified remove entire affected branch and sterilize cutting tools to prevent spreading the infection.

Tulip Poplar trees were attentively planted at George Washington's family home, now known as Mount Vernon. Check out the blog on George Washington and read all about his relationship to his 8,000 acre estate gardens.

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