Tulip Tree vs. Magnolia Tree: Why They Are Often Confused

Published March 24, 2022
A beautiful young girl holds unto a tulip tree branch covered in pink and white flowers

Both tulip trees and tulip magnolias bloom in spring or summer depending on your location, and provide gorgeous, showy displays of flowers. Despite both having the word "tulip" in their name, that's about where the similarities end. Here's how to tell these two beautiful flowering trees apart.

Tulip Magnolia Trees

Tulip magnolia trees are beautiful flowering trees that are native to east and southeast Asia, as well as parts of South America. They're members of the Magnolia family, which is a diverse group of trees with over 200 species. The tulip magnolia, also known as the saucer magnolia, is Magnolia X soulangeana.

Magnolia tree blooming

Tulip magnolias usually bloom in the summer in cold climates, or in spring in warm climates, producing a flush of pink, white, or purple blooms, depending on the cultivar. Hardy in Zones 5 through 9, they're generally used as ornamental trees. Most tulip magnolias grow to about 25 feet tall, with a pyramidal shape.

Tulip Trees

The tulip poplar tree (Liridendron tulipifera) is a North American native tree that is grown as a shade tree. They can grow to over 150 feet tall and produce yellow, tulip-shaped flowers in spring to early summer.

Liriodendron tulipifera at Vancouver

How to Tell Tulip Magnolia and Tulip Trees Apart

Though the names can be confusing (which is why it's so helpful as gardeners to learn the botanical names as plants; common names aren't nearly as exact) as you can see, these are definitely two very different trees. Here's a general rundown of the easiest ways to tell them apart.

Tulip Tree vs. Magnolia Tulip infographic

Bloom Color

Tulip magnolia flowers are pink, purple, or white, while tulip tree flowers are yellow with hints of green in the blooms. They generally flower at about the same time.

The flowers of tulip magnolias also tend to be larger than those of tulip tree.

Tree Size

Tulip trees are enormous, growing to around 150 feet. These trees are too large for your average urban or even suburban yard (unless you're lucky enough to have a very big back yard).

Tulip magnolias, on the other hand, are much smaller, coming in at around 20 to 25 feet tall, with lots of branching along the trunk.

Leaves

Tulip tree leaves have four lobes, arranged symmetrically with two lobes on each side of the leaf, the lower lobes being larger than the upper lobes.

Tulip tree flower and leaves

Tulip magnolia leaves are oval-shaped, coming to points at the end.

Two Beautiful Blooming Trees

Once you know the general qualities of each of these trees, it's much easier to recognize that they're very different. One is a majestic, native shade tree that gets pretty, yellow, tulip-shaped flowers, and the other is a smaller ornamental tree that gets pink, purple, or white blooms. One thing they absolutely have in common is that they're absolutely beautiful to behold when they're in full bloom!

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Tulip Tree vs. Magnolia Tree: Why They Are Often Confused