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



  1. Mark Drescher July 13, 2018 at 7:47 am - Reply

    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 October 22, 2018 at 12:03 am - Reply

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

  2. Mark May 17, 2018 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    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.

  3. paulhoesing May 8, 2018 at 11:17 am - Reply

    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 the house is cottonwood board and batten siding. I can show you a barn buile in 1936 that has never had any paint and the vertacle siding is fine

  4. Dan April 2, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

    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 cut it into planks.

  5. PTT January 8, 2018 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    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 March 9, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

      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

  6. Peter Andrew Sebastian Buckley September 4, 2017 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    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 tools.

  7. Robert J Miskines July 18, 2017 at 3:55 am - Reply

    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.

  8. JHF March 10, 2017 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    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.

    • ejmeier March 13, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      Yes, the “odor” section indicates any scent only when the wood is fully dried. I do admit that there are a lot of woods (elm, box elder, etc.) that have strong smells when green, but these odors are almost entirely absent in the dried wood.

      • JHF June 18, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

        Ok. Gotcha.

  9. George Spencer January 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

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

  10. kae October 7, 2016 at 7:56 am - Reply

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

  11. abanana February 20, 2016 at 9:05 pm - Reply

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

    • Louis August 14, 2018 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      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.

  12. VayaconMuerte October 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    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, however you know it). The red cedar was unaffected by rot for decades, so was often the selected wood for fence and gate posts. The only other woods I’ve seen used like this outdoors were Elm and a little Ash. (this was before the ‘big box’ days, where you cut and used what grew on your own farm to make buildings and fences).

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