yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of yellow-poplar
is Liriodendron tulipifera L. (Magnoliaceae). Recognized varieties and
forms are as follows: Liriodendron tulipifera var. fastigiatum (L.) Jaeq.,
Liriodendron tulipifera var. obtusilobum (L.) Michx., Liriodendron
tulipifera forma aureomarginatum Schwerin, Liriodendron tulipifera
forma integri- folium Kirchr.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Yellow-poplar is a
tall, deciduous, long-lived, broadleaf tree. The leaves are alternate with
a distinctive tuliplike shape. In forest stands yellow-poplar is one of the
straightest and tallest trees, with approximately 66 percent of the bole free
of lateral branches. It can reach heights of 200 feet (61 m) and a dbh
greater than 10 feet (3 m). The flowers are tuliplike in size and shape. The
fruit is a conelike structure consisting of many winged samaras on a central
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Yellow-poplar is mainly insect
pollinated, with some selfing. It a prolific seed producer. It first produces
seed at 15 to 20 years of age and continues to do so for more than 200
years. Heavy seed crops tend to compensate for low seed viability
(around 5-20 percent). The samaras are wind dispersed to distances 4 and
5 times the height of the parent tree. The samaras remain viable in the
seedbank for up to 8 years. Seeds require a cold stratification period, and
germination rates vary with time and temperature. Generally as
temperature decreases and time increases the germination rate increases;
for example, 90 percent germination occurred after 140 days at 36 degrees
Fahrenheit (2 deg C). Germination is epigeal and occurs when seeds
remain constantly moist for several weeks. Germination is enhanced on
mineral soil or on well-decomposed humus. Yellow-poplar sprouts from
dormant buds located on the root crown after cutting and/or fire. Sprouting
decreases with age, as the bark becomes too thick for the bud to break
through. Initially sprout growth surpasses seedling growth, but at 25 to 35
years seedling regeneration height catches and surpasses sprout regenera-
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Yellow-poplar grows best on north and
east aspects, lower slopes, sheltered coves, and gentle concave slopes.
Growth is best on moderately deep loams that are moderately moist,
well drained, and loose textured. Overstory associates include baldcypress
(Taxodium distichum), tupelo (Nyssa spp.), loblolly pine (Pinus taeda),
shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), oaks
(Quercus spp.), white ash (Fraxinus americana), American beech (Fagus
grandifolia), black walnut (Juglans nigra), and hickory (Carya spp.). Yellow
-poplar grows under a variety of climatic conditions due its broad geographic
distribution. The average rainfall varies from 30 to 80 inches (760-2030
mm), and the number of frost-free days varies from 150 to 310 days.
Yellow-poplar grows near sea level in Florida to 4,500 feet (1,364 m) in
the Appalachian Mountains.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Yellow-poplar is a shade-intolerant, pioneer
species. It often invades open sites, and in old-field succession it occurs in
pure or nearly pure stands.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Yellow poplar flowers from April to
June; seeds mature from August to late October. Peak samara dispersal
is from October to November, with a few falling as late as March.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Yellow-poplar inhabits eastern North
America. The species ranges from Vermont, west through southern
Ontario and Michigan, south to Louisiana, and east to northern Florida.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Yellow-poplar is
a major species in four forest cover types (Society of American Foresters):
yellow-poplar, Yellow-Poplar-Eastern Hemlock, Yellow-Poplar-White
Oak-Northern Red Oak, and Sweetgum-Yellow-Poplar. It is a minor
species in 11 types: Eastern White Pine, White Pine-Hemlock, White
Pine-Chestnut Oak, White Oak-Black Oak-Northern Red Oak, White
Oak, Northern Red Oak, Beech-Sugar Maple, Sassafras-Persimmon,
Loblolly Pine, Loblolly Pine-Hardwood, and Swamp Chestnut Oak-
On bottom lands and on the better drained soils of the Coastal Plain,
yellow-poplar grows in mixture with the tupelos (Nyssa spp.), bald-
cypress (Taxodium distichum), oaks (Quercus spp.), red maple (Acer
rubrum), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and loblolly pine
(Pinus taeda). In the Piedmont, associated species include oaks,
sweetgum, blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), red maple, loblolly pine,
shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana),
hickories (Carya spp.), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), sour-
wood (Oxydendrum arboreum), and redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).
At lower elevations in the Appalachian Mountains, yellow-poplar is
found with black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), white pine (Pinus
strobus), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), hickories, white oak
(Quercus alba), other oaks, black walnut (Juglans nigra), yellow pines,
flowering dogwood, sourwood, sweet birch (Betula lenta), blackgum,
basswood (Tilia americana), and Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina).
At higher elevations, associated species include northern red oak
(Quercus rubra), white ash (Fraxinus americana), black cherry
(Prunus serotina), cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata), yellow
buckeye (Aesculus octandra), American beech (Fagus grandifolia),
sugar maple (Acer saccharum), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis).
Trees associated with yellow-poplar in nonmountainous areas of the
North and Midwest include white oak, black oak (Quercus velutina),
northern red oak, ash, beech, sugar maple, blackgum, dogwood, and
Pure stands of yellow-poplar occupy only a small percentage of the
total land within the range of the species, but they are usually on
productive sites that include some of the most valuable timber
producing forests in eastern North America. It has been repeatedly
observed in the southern Appalachians that the percentage of yellow-
poplar increases noticeably with increasing quality of the site. Where
yellow-poplar grows in pure, or nearly pure, stands on medium and
lower quality sites, it probably originated on abandoned old fields.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Livestock prefer the foliage and stems of
yellow-poplar over those of other tree species. Young trees are often
heavily browsed, and seedlings are frequently eliminated by browsing or
trampling. Cattle or other browsers create "browse lines" on older trees.
White-tailed deer browse yellow-poplar during all seasons. Northern
bobwhites, purple finches, cottontails, red squirrels, gray squirrels, and
white-footed mice consume the samaras. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers use
the phloem, and ruby-throated hummingbirds consume nectar from the
Yellow-poplars in various stages of growth provide hiding and thermal
cover for white-tailed deer, small mammals, upland game birds, waterfowl,
and nongame birds. They provide habitat for the endangered red-cockaded
Yellow-poplar has been planted onto surface coal mine reclamation sites
with variable results, but total failures are rare. Yellow-poplar should be
planted in mixtures with other hardwoods.
Yellow-poplar wood is used for construction grade lumber and plywood.
It has straight grain, little shrinkage, and excellent gluing qualities. In the
past is was used for carriage bodies, shingles, saddle frames, and interior
finish wood. It is currently used for cabinets, veneer, furniture, and pulp.
Yellow-poplar has only fair value as a fuelwood but good value as kindling.
Yellow-poplar has been valued as an ornamental since 1663. The tuliplike
flowers and leaves are aesthetically pleasing. The flowers are also valuable
nectar producers. The flowers from a 20-year-old tree produce enough
nectar to yield 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of honey.
Yellow-poplar was used medicinally in the late 1800's: a heart stimulant
was extracted from the inner bark of the root, and a tonic for treating
rheumatism and dyspepsia was extracted from stem bark.
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