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Liriodendron tulipifera

Liriodendron tulipifera

This eastern North American native is a large and stately tree with unusual dark glossy green leaves up to 15cm (6in) long that look as though the tips have been cut off with a sharp pair of scissors. In summer, mature trees (usually more than 10 years old) bear tulip-shaped (hence the common name) pale green flowers which are inconspicuous from a distance but on closer inspection reveal long yellow stamens nestling within a cup of pale green petals with darker green veining and orange banding.

A second season of display arrives in late autumn, when the leaves turn a rich yellow before falling. We have two large specimen trees at Rosemoor in Lady Anne’s garden, which can be found near the Wisteria Tea Room.

Vital statistics

Common name
Tulip tree, yellow poplar, canary whitewood
Family
Magnoliaceae
Height & spread
Up to 50m (160ft) x 15m (50ft)
Form
Broadly columnar to conical tree
Soil
Fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil, sheltered from drying winds
Aspect
Full sun or partial shade
Hardiness
Fully hardy

Liriodendron

A genus of two species of deciduous trees from woodland in China, Vietnam and N. America, Liriodendron are cultivated for their graceful upward habit and strangely shaped leaves which produce good autumn colour.

The cup-shaped flowers occurring from May onwards are more profuse in hot summers and, though inconspicuous from a distance, work very well in a cut flower arrangement.

The name Liriodendron derives from Greek leirion, lily, and dendron, tree.

Liriodendron tulipifera

L. tulipifera is a native of eastern North America and is useful for hardwood timber growing straight and elegantly to 50m (160ft) tall with few lower branches.

Its 15cm (6in) long leaves are saddle shaped, bright green on top, and pale green underneath, turning butter yellow in autumn; following leaf fall they display deeply fissured grey-brown bark.

In early to midsummer, mature trees display solitary pale green, tulip-shaped, faintly scented flowers with orange bands at their base.

A specimen or avenue tree par excellence, well suited to a large park or garden.

Cultivation

  • Plant level with root flare in late spring in an open sunny position on deep, fertile, moisture-retentive soil.
  • Always plant into final permanent position – Liriodendron are intolerant of transplanting.
  • Minimal pruning required. Remove dead and diseased material in late winter or early spring back to healthy framework. 

Propagation

  • Sow seed in containers in a cold frame in autumn.
  • Graft in early spring in a warm closed propagator.
  • Layering in spring is possible – grow on for two years before severing from the parent plant.

AGM

The RHS Floral Woody Plant Committee awarded Liriodendron tulipifera an Award of Garden Merit and described it as a:

"Vigorous, large deciduous tree with distinctively shaped leaves turning butter-yellow in autumn. Flowers 4cm long, tulip-shaped, yellowish-green, marked with orange within."

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