USA Official State Tree of Kentucky

Tulip/Yellow PoplarTree, a state symbol

(Magnoliaceae Liriodendron tulipifera)
Adopted on July 15, 1994.


The controversy over Kentucky's state tree brewed for more than 40 years before being decided in 1994, with the selection of the Yellow Poplar, Magnoliaceae Liriodendron tulipifera, a.k.a. Tulip Tree or Tulip Poplar, or in botanical books .


Not an actual poplar, the Tulip Poplar is a member of the magnolia family. Its name is derived from the greenish-yellow tulip-like flowers the tree produces in the spring, usually in May. (Also, the leaves look like silhouettes of a tulip -- although most say that has nothing to do with its name.)


The flowers' petals fall shortly after blooming, leaving behind cone-shaped clusters of winged seeds that ripen in the fall and drift away. The seeds are eaten by various types of birds and small animals, but aren't great favorites of any, except possibly cardinals. Once the seeds are blown away or devoured, the cones remain throughout the winter.

Tulip Poplars are rapid-growing and long-lived. They grow straight and are tall, averaging about 100 feet. The tallest living Tulip Poplar, according to the National Register of Big Trees, is located in Bedford, Virginia at 111 feet high, with a trunk over 31 feet around. The trunks of the Tulip Poplar are stout with gray furrowed bark. A Tulip Poplar's age can be estimated from the density, darkness of color, and amount of furrows in the bark. The oldest living Tulip Poplar, located in New York, is approximately 225 years old.


In Kentucky, the Tulip Poplar prefers the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Tulip Poplars thrive in deep, moist soils along streams and in mountain coves. They need full sunlight to grow and develop; in dense woods, newly-germinated seedlings will survive only a few weeks. Instead, stands of Tulip Poplars are usually established in abandoned fields by wind-borne seeds.


Yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), also called tuliptree, tulip-poplar, white-poplar, and whitewood, is one of the most attractive and tallest of eastern hardwoods. It is fast growing and may reach 300 years of age on deep, rich, well-drained soils of forest coves and lower mountain slopes. The wood has high commercial value because of its versatility and as a substitute for increasingly scarce softwoods in furniture and framing construction. Yellow-poplar is also valued as a honey tree, a source of wildlife food, and a shade tree for large areas.


Kentucky Revised Statutes
2.095 State tree.
The tulip poplar is named and designated as the Kentucky state tree.
Effective: July 15, 1994
  • History: Amended 1994 Ky. Acts ch. 40, sec. 1, effective July 15, 1994. -- Created
  • 1976 Ky. Acts ch. 43, sec. 1, effective June 19, 1976.
  • Leaf: Alternate, simple, palmately veined, orbicular, 4-lobed with an entire margin, 4 to 8 inches long. Somewhat shaped like a tulip.
  • Flower: Showy, but high in the tree, 2 1/2 inches long, with yellow-green petals and an orange corolla. Present April to June.
  • Fruit: An oblong aggregate of samaras, deciduous at maturity. Each samara is 1-winged, 1 1/2 inches long, and 4-angled. Maturing August to October.
  • Twig: Red-brown in color, often with a shiny appearance or a waxy bloom. Stipules are large and encircle the twig. Buds are elongated and valvate, resembling a "duck bill". Twigs have a sweet, spicy odor when broken.
  • Bark: Light gray-green in color, often with white in grooves or in patches. Smooth when young, developing flat-topped ridges and furrows in diamond shaped patterns. On older trees sapsucker holes are common.
  • Form: In a stand, this tree is very straight with a limb-free bowl. Open-grown trees have a pyramidal crown when young, becoming oval in shape.
Taxonomic Hierarchy
Kingdom Plantae -- Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta -- Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass Magnoliidae –
Order Magnoliales –
Family Magnoliaceae – Magnolia family
Genus Liriodendron L. – tuliptree
Species Liriodendron tulipifera L. – tuliptree


Dendrology at Virginia Tech
U.S. Department of Agriculture