This important tree species of the Eastern United States would be more accurately labeled "Tulip-poplar" since it's not really a poplar (genus Populus). It is also known as the "Yellow-poplar", "tulip tree" and "canoewood".
Tulip poplars are concentrated in the Piedmont region east of the southern Appalachian Mountains, the Cumberland Plateau to the west, and in a large patch that extends from southwestern Indiana through central Kentucky into eastern Tennessee (where it is the state tree and flower). They are thinly spread into New England, southern Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, and the Florida Panhandle.
Tulip Poplars can grow to over 100 feet; the few remaining old growth specimens approach 200 feet. The bark of a mature tree breaks into vertical ridges in much the same way as an oak, but the ridges are greenish grey and turn white at the tops. You will also notice horizontal patches of light grey higher up the tree.
The most distinctive features of the tulip poplar, however, are its flowers and leaves. The leaves have four pointed lobes, two on each side of the primary vein, but the two lobes at the tip are arranged so that it looks like the tip has been bitten off. The leaves are attatched to the branches by 4-6 inch long petiole
s, which allows them to flap in the breeze like the leaves of a poplar. The tulip-shaped compound flowers have yellow outer sepals with orange chevrons. These develop into a distinctive strobile
, an aggregate of samara
s that resembles a papery pine cone.
Tulip Poplar is one of the softest of the hardwoods, but because of its straight grain and shrinkage patterns, it is very versatile, being used for veneer, plywood, furniture, and anything that requires fine joinery. Tulip poplar is an important secondary wood in early American furniture. It will also make for good canoes and can be used for boat planking in a pinch. Daniel Boone is said to have preferred tulip poplars for canoes; in 1799, when he wore out his welcome in Kentucky, he hauled his whole family and all of his belongings to Spanish Missouri in a tulip-poplar canoe.
All sorts of things on the US Forest Service website
Prasad, A. M. and L. R. Iverson. 1999-ongoing. A Climate Change Atlas for 80 Forest Tree Species of the Eastern United States [database].
Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Delaware, Ohio.
Liriodendron Tulipifera species page,