UT Gardens February Plant of the Month: Tulip Poplar – WGRV.com

UT Gardens February Plant of the Month: Tulip Poplar – WGRV.com

Our state tree, so named for its distinctive tulip-shaped flowers, is the tulip poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera). It is a beautiful tree and can be found in every county in Tennessee. As the tallest native deciduous tree in North America, it can mature to more than 150 1/2 feet wide. It’s a “truly aristocratic tree,” says Michael Dear, in his book Guide to Woody Landscape Plants. Large mature examples can be found throughout the state, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In landscapes, tulip poplars tend to grow about 70 feet tall and make good shade trees. It grows quickly, especially in young people. In addition, they are drought tolerant once established. At home, it is best to grow them in good soil where additional water can be provided in long dry periods. This can help prevent early leaf drop.

Lavender’s five- to eight-inch-long leaves are bright green and turn golden in early fall. They are thin and decompose quickly after falling from the tree. Honeydew shedding caused by leaf-feeding aphids can sometimes be a problem, so it’s best to plant it away from cars or yards. Gardeners will need to look up to see the flowers, as they are often overlooked due to their height in the canopy. Each flower consists of six greenish-yellow petals with orange near the base. The flowers are frequented by tiger swallowtail butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds.

Many aspects of the tulip poplar make it easy to recognize. Its straight trunk is covered with strips of long, wrinkled light gray bark. The stems have duckbill-shaped buds and lavender-shaped leaves. The flowers also resemble tulips, resulting in a 2- to 3-inch cone-shaped seed that distinguishes it from other trees.

Tulip poplars can be seen growing in several locations in Knoxville and Jackson parks. If you don’t have room for straight types or are looking for something a little different, you may want to consider the “Arnold.” This vertical variety is great for small spaces. There is also a variety called ‘Little Volunteer’ which grows to half the size of the upright variety. Our state tree is beautiful and versatile in the landscape. Don’t overlook this when choosing trees for your landscape.

UT Gardens includes botanical collections located in Knoxville, Crossville, and Jackson, Tennessee. UT Gardens is designated as the official botanical garden of the state of Tennessee, and is part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The mission of the Gardens is to promote the appreciation, education, and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs, and research experiences. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the gardens website: utia.tennessee.edu/state-botanical-garden.

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