The term “Rainbow Poplar” does not refer to a separate wood species, but rather, is a designation of Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) that has been mineral stained. The resulting mineral stained wood—which, although not necessarily common, is by no means rare or scarce—exhibits a variety of colors ranging from green, purple, black, red, etc. It is this distinct variety of colors that turns an otherwise oridnary piece of Poplar into the intriguing Rainbow Poplar. The precise cause of these streaks and discolored wood produced in certain trees is not fully understood.

See the page on regular Poplar for more information on mechanical and working characteristics of the wood.

A special thanks to Mike Leigher for providing the wood sample of this wood species.

Rainbow Poplar (sanded)
Rainbow Poplar (sanded)

Rainbow Poplar (sealed)
Rainbow Poplar (sealed)

Rainbow Poplar (endgrain)
Rainbow Poplar (endgrain)

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Wes Floyd
Wes Floyd

I work at a place that involves pallets and found one made out of poplar w beautiful coloring. I took it apart and then glued it back together in segments. I then cut it round on the band saw and mounted it on my lathe. Turned into a 13″ diameter bowl, 4″deep, and if I say so myself, quite beautiful, considering what it started out as.

Keith
Keith

Can this happen in balsam poplar too? I cut some and it had green, purple, red, and blue colors through out the heartwood. It doesn’t look like spalting it looks a lot like rainbow poplar.

Jacob Strauss
Jacob Strauss

Most of the time, I see these streaks surrounding a couple of bug holes, so maybe it’s caused by a fungus brought in with the borer, kind of like ambrosia maple

Andy
Andy

While it can be utterly drab a majority of the time, poplar can yield some real gems at times. That’s why I always rummage through the poplar bin at the big box stores. From “rainbow” mineral streaks to birds-eyes to tiger-stripes to strong medullary rays-can do everything! Just very, very inconsistently. Btw I love this site! Been using it for a while now. Quite handy. Thank you!

Ralph Trueblood
Ralph Trueblood

David Chambers: You’ll be lots more famous if you can produce live *non*-non-dried poplar, whether you pass current through it or not. Cut it down and it’s already seasoned!

Navarro Edwards
Navarro Edwards

Is Rainbow Poplar or just Poplar safe for cutting boards? I’ve heard that it’s toxic .

Chris
Chris

I’ve not heard that it’s toxic but it is too soft of a wood to use for cutting boards.

Josh
Josh

My in-laws had a Kentucky board fence put in and they gave me the left over wood. Its all rough cut so I started planing some down and a lot of it turned out to be rainbow poplar. Ill attach a picture if possible. I ended up with a few 1x6x8′ boards.

Anthony Retzlaff
Anthony Retzlaff

Regardless, it is beautiful, I seek it out every time I’m in Menards. Absolutely beautiful wood.

William atkins
William atkins

No, it absorbs mineral from a swamp near it, I’m a logger, can confirm.

Gary Fay
Gary Fay

I work at a sawmill here in Tennessee I would also confirm this.

Chad huett
Chad huett

I just cut one up today that was lightning struck a couple years ago. At first I thought it was ruined so I started reading and am hoping that’s what I have. :-)

David Chambers
David Chambers

Not being in any way a wood expert (just a DIY guy), I think I have an excellent theory about how Yellow Poplar becomes “mineral” stained: I recently purchased a long 8/4 Poplar board, well over a foot wide, for a project. It was definitely rainbowed from one end. Every color, almost just like what Mike pictured for us, but even more colors: yellow, blonde, dark brown, very dark brown, burgundy, purple and green. That tree had been struck by lightning, as evidenced by the three-foot split from that same end of my board, where both sides of the split… Read more »

Thomas Hudnall
Thomas Hudnall

The mineral staining improves the conductivity of the tree. This makes them more likely to be struck as well as providing a conductive path for the electron rebalance to follow.

Jacob Strauss
Jacob Strauss

That seems to explain (to a small degree) why a 5 foot piece of Rainbow Poplar I got from Home Depot was acting a bit weird when I was lichtenberg burning it. Although, I’m still trying to figure out why it kept burning normally even after finding a path between the two probes. It would just connect for a split second and then it would act as if it never reached and it kept burning until it found a second path that stayed active after reaching, and the one it found first suddenly became active again at the same time… Read more »