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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Yellow Poplar

Yellow Poplar

(Liriodendron tulipifera L)

  Yellow poplar, or tulip tree, is named for its greenish-yellow heartwood and its attractive tulip-like flowers. The heartwood does not develop until the tree obtains considerable diameter, lisually 2 feet or more. Loggers refer to a young yellow poplar as "white poplar" because heartwood color has not yet formed.

Yellow poplar is one of the largest and most valuable hardwood trees in the United States.

Yellow poplar can be found throughout the state but grows best in deep moist soils along streams and in lower mountain coves. It commonly reaches a height of 90 to 110 feet and a trunk diameter of from 2 to 5 feet. The tree has been known to reach heights of nearly 200 feet, with a straight, clear trunk 8 to 10 feet in diameter. Some trees may be free of branches for as high as 80 to 100 feet from the ground.

The crown has a compact, pyramidal shape, and often tapers sharply to the top.

Yellow poplar bark is light gray and becomes thick and deeply furrowed on older trees. Flowers are tulip-like, and 1 1/2 to 2 inches across. The petals are yellowish-green and conspicuously marked with reddish-orange bands near the base. The fruit is a cone-like aggregate, 2 1/2 to 3 inches long, that breaks up as it matures in September and October.

Yellow poplar leaves are easily recognized, because they are composed of four large lobes. They are 5 to 6 inches long. They are about as broad as they are long. The two outer lobes often flattened into a squarish end. In autumn, the leaves of the yellow poplar turn from green to bright yellow and stand out from leaves of other trees.

The terminal buds are about 1/2 inch long, flattened and valvate, opening like a duck's bill. Sprouts and buds are one of the main foods of deer, and squirrels eat yellow poplar seeds in early fall and again in mid-winter.

The wood is light, soft and easily worked. It is light yellow or brown, with wide cream-colored sapwood. Yellow poplar is extensively cut into lumber for interior and exterior trim, vencers, flake and chip boards, turnery and other high-grade uses.
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