Native plant of the month: Liriodendron tulipifera, or tulip tree

Wellfield’s native plant of the month for June is the tulip tree. The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) can be found in its native range of eastern North America including the state of Indiana. The tulip tree can be found commonly in parks and medians due to its showy flowers and relatively low maintenance needs. Its gold color leaves in the fall also make this tree desirable for landscaping. This hardwood is the tallest of the North American hardwood trees at 60-150 feet tall, and it belongs in the Magnolia family. Historically, the tulip tree was once plentiful in its native range of the eastern United States. The hardwood from these trees were once used for railroad ties and fence posts by loggers. Hardiness zones for this tree range from zone 5-9. This tree does great in acidic soil, as well as moist and well-drained soil. Tulip trees prefer full sun and can grow more than two feet in one year: this makes them a fast growing tree!

The tulip tree gets its name from its tulip shaped flowers and its leaves that also look like a tulip. Tulip trees typically do not bloom until they reach 15 years of age. The trees here at Wellfield Botanic Gardens are too young to produce blooms yet since they are less than 15 years old. The flowers on this tree are about two inches tall and are yellow in color, with some orange color around the inside. You can see these showy flowers during their blooming season in late May to mid June (hence why this tree was chosen for the native plant of the month for June). These flowers are appreciated by people as well as pollinators. The nectar from these flowers can be enjoyed by certain species of hummingbirds and butterflies. Tulip tree silkmoth caterpillars and tiger swallowtail caterpillars use this tree as a host plant, with the tulip tree silkmoth using this species of tree as the only possible host for their caterpillars.

Pictured above is a tulip tree featured in the Children’s Garden at Wellfield Botanic Gardens

Tulip trees are a beloved native all across the eastern United States. This canopy tree would be a great addition to any landscape design because of its hardiness, fast growth, sun tolerance, showy flowers, fall coloring, pollinators and many other great characteristics. Here at Wellfield Botanic Gardens, we will be showcasing the importance of native species on the ecosystem with this series of the native plant of the month. Watch out for next month’s featured plant and in the meantime, visit the Gardens and see if you can find a tulip tree!

Ariana Guerrero
Lead Horticulturist

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