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North American tulip tree

The Native Americans of the Appalachian Mountains used trunks of this tree to make dugout canoes; massive logs were hollowed out and could carry up to 20 people at a time.

Flower on the tulip tree

About Kew's tulip trees

Kew’s oldest tulip tree dates back to the 1770s and was possibly planted when Charles Bridgeman landscaped Queen Caroline’s Richmond Estate (now the western side of Kew Gardens).

On 16 March 1914, a storm felled a magnificent specimen in the Rhododendron Dell. At more than 23 m tall, it was planted shortly after George III came to the throne and had been one of the largest in the country.

Take a closer look

  • The flowers of this tree are beautiful but take a look at the leaves too. They are large, bright green and four-lobed. The way the leaves flutter in the wind, like a poplar, has led this tree to be known as the tulip poplar, although it is no relation.
  • In mid-summer, don't miss the tulip tree's beautiful flowers. They produce a lot of nectar so look out for visiting bees.
     

Tree biology

The tulip tree’s natural range encompasses eastern Canada and the USA, where specimens can grow to 60 m tall.

The tree has dark green leaves and cup-shaped white, green and orange blooms that look like tulips, hence its name, although there is no scientific link between the two.

Cultivation and uses

This species is grown in the USA for its flowers, timber and as food for honeybees. However, the resulting honey is more often used in baking than as a table honey.

Where the wood is used as timber, it has similarities to white pine and is typically employed for use in organs, coffins and kitchenware. Tulip tree trunks often have no branches for the first 25–30 m, so it makes good long planks, without the problems of weak wood strength and fast decay seen in other fast-growing species.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Liriodendron tulipifera
  • Family: Magnoliaceae
  • Place of origin: north-eastern America
  • Conservation status: Not Evaluated
  • Date planted: 1939
  • Height: 22.7 m