Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
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Common Name(s): Poplar, Tulip Poplar, Yellow Poplar

Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera

Distribution: Eastern United States

Tree Size: 130-160 ft (40-50 m) tall, 6-8 ft (1.8-2.5 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 29 lbs/ft3 (455 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .40, .46

Janka Hardness: 540 lbf (2,400 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 10,100 lbf/in2 (69.7 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,580,000 lbf/in2 (10.90 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 5,540 lbf/in2 (38.2 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 4.6%, Tangential: 8.2%, Volumetric: 12.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.8

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is light cream to yellowish brown, with occasional streaks of gray or green. Sapwood is pale yellow to white, not always clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Can also be seen in mineral stained colors ranging from dark purple to red, green, or yellow, sometimes referred to as Rainbow Poplar. Colors tend to darken upon exposure to light.

Grain/Texture: Poplar typically has a straight, uniform grain, with a medium texture. Low natural luster.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; small pores in no specific arrangement, numerous; solitary and radial multiples of 2-3; tyloses occasionally present; growth rings distinct due to marginal parenchyma and noded rays; rays not visible without lens; parenchyma banded (marginal).

Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as being moderately durable to non-durable; susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Very easy to work in almost all regards,  one of Poplar’s only downsides is its softness. Due to its low density, Poplar can sometimes leave fuzzy surfaces and edges: especially during shaping or sanding. Sanding to finer grits of sandpaper may be necessary to obtain a smooth surface.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Poplar has been reported as an irritant; usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, as well as asthma-like symptoms. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Among the most economical and inexpensive of all domestic hardwoods. Poplar should be affordably priced, especially in the Eastern United States where it naturally grows.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Seldom used for its appearance, (except in the case of Rainbow Poplar), Poplar is a utility wood in nearly every sense. It’s used for pallets, crates, upholstered  furniture frames, paper (pulpwood), and plywood. Poplar veneer is also used for a variety of applications: either dyed in various colors, or on hidden undersides of veneered panels to counteract the pull of the glue on an exposed side that has been veneered with another, more decorative wood species.

Comments: Poplar is one of the most common utility hardwoods in the United States. Though the wood is commonly referred to simply as “Poplar,” it is technically not in the Populus genus itself, (the genus also includes many species of Cottonwood and Aspen), but is instead in the Liriodendron genus, which is Latin for “lily tree.” The flowers of this tree look similar to tulips, hence the common alternate name: Tulip Poplar.

Related Species:

None available.

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the veneer sample (burl) and turned photo of this wood species.

Yellow Poplar (sanded)
Poplar (sanded)
Yellow Poplar (sealed)
Poplar (sealed)
Yellow Poplar (endgrain)
Poplar (endgrain)
Yellow Poplar (endgrain 10x)
Poplar (endgrain 10x)
Poplar (turned)
Poplar (turned)
Poplar (mineral-stained burl)
Poplar (mineral-stained burl)
Rainbow Poplar
Rainbow Poplar
 
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Stephanson mike

Can I cut and use it for 2×6 and 2×4 board to build with

Tim

Can you use poplar for tread boards on a staircase

Jeremy Wiley

Yes. I have done many treads in Poplar

Dee

Is this an acceptable material for a bathroom vanity that will be exposed to water and humidity?

jdl

I wouldn’t use it for the countertop but for the cabinet it’d be fine.

Kody Barrett

an 8 ft diameter poplar would be awesome to see or a 6. Has anyone ever seen one? Much less use those measurements to describe a poplar in general.

Sam

A walk through Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a journey back in time through a magnificent forest with towering trees as old as 450 years. Some enormous tulip-poplars are more than 20 feet in circumference and stand 100 feet tall.
https://www.fs.usda.gov › …PDF
joyce kilmer memorial forest – Forest Service – USDA

Bubba Rhubarb

This weekend, I picked up an amazing 2″ thick slab of Rainbow Poplar for my live-edge kitchen countertop! Moistened, the grain is STUNNING, sporting a “tiger-eye” chatoyancy with lots off little shiny “monkey faces”… but dried out, the chatoyancy is dulled a bit.

QUESTION (or two): How do you suggest I pretreat or prestain the wood to make the rainbow chatoyancy PUNCH best? Or will it punch and shine naturally with a coat or two of clear epoxy? One or two seal coats, and how many flood coats?

I’m open to ideas that highlight the natural grain, not hide it!

ExRxIT

You might very well get the results you want with an epoxy by itself. I use epoxy (Z-Poxy) as a grain filler and first coat on acoustic guitars, primarily because it enhances the color and chatoyance of the woods. Epoxy ‘wets’ the wood and really makes it pop. Try a sample and see how it looks!

KATE

HOW WELL WOULD A PORCH SWING HOLD UP MADE OF POPLAR? THIS WOULD HANG FROM A FRAME NOT UNDER A ROOF.

Stephen Holland

It would not hold up well. It is too soft. White oak would be a much better choice. Also white oak stains beautifully. Lovely grain.

Christopher Knee

How long does the tree take to grow? A picture of the tree would be nice.

Jim Stakr

A poplar will take about fifty years to grow to maturity. At that point, the trunk will be about 2′ in diameter. Lower branches tend to drop off naturally, so it is not unusual to find trees that are clear for 12-16′ above the root shoulder.

Mermaidsue

I work in a 325 yo building. The original room of the house (ring dated to 1675) has poplar floors, confirmed by the flooring guy who refinished them a couple of years ago. They are 18″+ planks and look amazing.

Deann

I have some furniture that says is made of poplar solid wood and the paint is chipping off easily. Is this normal? Where it is flaked off, it looks like styrofoam underneath?

Mark Drescher

I’m building a 14×40 deck. It will be about 3’ off the ground. I would love to use black locust for the decking but don’t have the money for that now. I do have access to several poplar trees and a mill. Thoughts on using the poplar? How long should it air dry before being put to use? Thickness the boards should be cut?

L S

Don’t. It rots. Wouldn’t use the stuff for anything but cabinetry & furniture.

Mark

I primarily use poplar to build upholstered furniture. It is not uncommon to get different densities of poplar some being heavy/hard, while some are light and soft.

paulhoesing

I used to do the millwork for a lot of homes both supplying and finishing the millwork. I used a lot of poplar both stained and painted. It is an excellent wood to paint. It also stains quite well with wiping type stains and in appearance with the dark “cherry” stains it is a very good substitute for cherry at one third the price. Also someone mention poplar siding, while Wehave no poplar trees around here we do have cottonwood and I grew up on a farm that had the trees and a sawmill. Every building on the place except… Read more »

Dan

I used poplar from my own land for the siding on my barn, painted red or course. Despite all the warnings about how it wouldn’t last It has been doing just fine for a couple of decades now. As for looks, painted red as I mentioned, people have often stopped and complimented me on my beautiful barn, and all it cost me was a little bit at the local sawmill.to cut it into planks.

PTT

The definition of a hardwood or softwood is in the structure not whether if is soft or hard to work. All conifers are softwood by cell structure. Balsa wood is a hardwood by cell structure but is a very soft wood

D-Andre

it has to due with the seeds.. seeds incased in a shell ie. fruit or like an maple seed are hardwoods. Seeds without a shell ie pinecone are softwoods.. pretty simple really

Peter Andrew Sebastian Buckley

I have a section of Tulip Poplar I’ve been working from for over 3 months and so far haven’t had any problems with rot or insects. And this includes exposure to high humidity. Actually, It’s likely to be rainbow poplar because the the colors that are revealed when it’s sanded and polished have a wide range. I’ve made several pieces of jewelry from it and they’ve all turned out great. It is a bit softer than other hardwoods I’ve worked with, but I’ve found that it actually makes getting particular detail and shape easier especially when using high grit sanding… Read more »

Robert J Miskines

Poplar is an excellent option for artist canvas stretcher bars. It is light, very strong, straight and resistant to warping, bending and bowing. I prefer it over pine.

JHF

Tulip poplar most certainly DOES have a distinctive odor.
It has a perfume type smell when cut green.
When burned, green, it smells like burning Styrofoam.

JHF

Ok. Gotcha.

Sam L

I also have a different experience with yellow poplar. This was 90% of the wood we would use when trimming a house (baseboards,casings, door jambs). I can guarantee the poplar we use has a very distinct smell when cross cut at high speed,as in a mitre saw. This would happen more when there was heat generated by friction and a slight saw burn. The smell was almost foul, sort of like cat dung. Not extremely unpleasant, sort of a spices smell. The smell was more prominent in the dark, green, and pink streaked pieces, and almost absent in the cream… Read more »

George Spencer

There is an old saying about poplar: Though oak is strong and stout, keep me dry and I’ll last him out!

kae

would this or should this be used for a baby crib, ever?

Matthew Niedbala

Yes it’s perfectly fine. Treat it like you would a softwood not a hardwood.

abanana

I’ve always thought the poplar was soft wood. How come it becomes hardwood now??? Hmmm

Louis

It is a hardwood, how ever it isnt a particularly “hard wood.” The distinction between and softwood is related to how the species produces seeds. In general, hardwood trees grow slowly and as a result are more hard and dense but this isnt always the case. Poplar is an example of a tree that is technically a hardwood but had density and hardness that is more typical of a softwood.

VayaconMuerte

Not really sure of the statements in this article being accurate. I’m an old guy, grew up in the Southeast U.S., and we ALWAYS built our outdoors gates (as in barn doors, cattle gates, etc.) out of poplar (aka Yellow Poplar). The old ‘man tales’ said that it would last forever, as long as you ‘kept it off the ground’. I know for a fact that many of our unstained, unpainted, untreated gates lasted 40 or more years before becoming weak or failing, and were unapproached by insects when hung from Red Juniper (aka virginia juniper or Tennessee red cedar,… Read more »