Yellow Poplar

During the spring you can look at the mountains and tell where the streams and small drains are by looking for the streaks of green that the early leafing yellow poplar produces. It prefers to grow where the soil is deep and moist. Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is the state tree of both Kentucky and Tennessee, and its size, beauty, and usefulness is worthy of the title. The name is misleading, for it’s not in the poplar family, which includes aspen and cottonwood. It’s a member of the Magnolia family. The “poplar” name probably came from the way the leaves wobble easily in the wind the way that aspens do. Other names for the tree are tulip poplar and tulip tree because of the tulip-like appearance of the flowers that appear in May. They are quite striking, and a good source of bee nectar. Yellow poplar is to the eastern version of the redwood, being the tallest and most massive tree this side of the Mississippi. They can reach heights of over 200 feet and diameters exceeding 12 feet. The tree is easy to identify by its broad, smooth margined leaves that look as if their top has been clipped off flat. The bark is light gray in color, smooth when young, but becoming fissured as the tree ages. The trunk of the poplar tree is usually very straight and free of limbs for a long way up, giving the tree a cathedral column appearance. Another unique feature of yellow poplar is its rarity. There are only two species of it on the planet, ours and one in China. When early pioneers first came to our area, they appreciated its long, straight logs and the ease that it could be worked with hand tools. Many of the older log homes and barns still standing are made of poplar, as is the old clapboard siding used on many houses built in the early 1900s. Today it is still a valuable wood for furniture, plywood, and rough lumber. With proper growing conditions, poplar grows fast, making it a valuable commercial forest species. The poplar tree is also valued for landscaping, with its unique leaf shape, showy flowers, and golden fall coloration. If you decide to plant poplar in your yard, do plant it where it likes to grow, in a soil that’s deep and fairly moist. And give it plenty of room.

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