Using Tulip Poplar on the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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Closeup of a large Tulip Poplar leaf, growing from the stump of a previously cut tree.

I am a firm believe that part of being a good steward for your homestead, farm, or even a backyard in town lies in being aware of the plants and animals that call the area home as well. When you learn to identify local trees and plants, it leads to awareness of the wildlife that consume or make their home amongst them. When you understand how all animals interact with nature around you, it can lead to a deeper appreciation for this beautiful planet and all who inhabit it.

On the Eastern side of United States, a common hardwood tree called the Yellow Poplar serves to benefit not only wildlife, but people as well. Yellow Poplar, also known as “Tulip Poplar”, is not actually in the same family as other Poplar trees, and is however more closely related to the Magnolia family. Learning to identify this tree properly can be beneficial, as it makes for sometimes colorful lumber, a readily available woodworking source, and food for different species of animals.

Planting Tulip Poplar for Wildlife

Last Summer, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of the older doe that frequents the land with her young fawn. The fawn bounded away from her mother often, not too far out of sight, nibbling here and there on leaves. I made sure to pay particular attention to what each of them browsed on, and noted that the mother and weaned fawn were both mainly selecting shoots of Tulip Poplar that were growing from stumps of previously cleared small trees. Another benefit for wildlife is seen in the yellow and orange flowers, often visited by hummingbirds while in bloom, providing them a nectar source in the late Spring to early Summer.

Crafting Projects with Tulip Poplar

Depending on the resource you look as, it is generally not recommended that this particular wood is used in major building projects. This is mainly because trees harvested for old-growth heartwood have been found to have a resistance to decay, but most younger trees you encounter that are mainly sapwood do not have the same durability. However, the lumber is great for small woodworking projects while branches and smaller logs can also be used.

We frequently make simple walking sticks from small Tulip Poplar branches, or smaller cleared saplings, as it is easy to peel and they are quite lightweight when dried properly. We’ve also used saplings to put together very simple hide stretching frames, by connecting four long poles together with small notches and lashing or nailing them together to keep it from flexing too much. Wood slices cut from small branches also make for beautiful coasters and Christmas ornaments that are suitable for wood burning and painting after they’ve been sanded. Even the peeled bark makes for useful cordage, which I enjoy using to display our bone needles with.

Tulip Poplar can be used to make cordage, shown here.

From logs that are not quite large enough to fool with putting on the sawmill, a sturdy fleshing beam can be made for larger hides you wish to tan. Our first fleshing beam was made of debarked Poplar, however I did not have space at the time to put it in the shop, and so it sat outside after that hunting and trapping season. The elements took their toll on the untreated logs, and though it held up for another season, the damage had been done and the wood began to rot. Because we had room indoors the next time, my husband built a much sturdier beam that can withstand the pressure and weight of fleshing even a full cow hide. Because of this experience, I recommend keeping any form of untreated Poplar for crafts indoors.

Larger Poplar logs that are suitable to be milled can be used in a variety of woodworking projects, though at one point in time the logs themselves were used by Native Americans for the building of canoes (again, keeping in mind these may have been old-growth trees that were more durable than today’s trees). Uses from the lumber include indoor trimming, toy making, cabinets, furniture, jewelry boxes, and much more. Yellow Poplar is also commonly hauled off for pulpwood during the clear-cutting of land.

A large fleshing beam made from Yellow Poplar, suitable for large hides such as deer and cattle.

Tulip Poplar for Firewood

When you are looking for firewood to heat the home, each wood is evaluated for its BTU (British Thermal Unit) which tells you the energy the fuel (your firewood) has, in turn helping to determine which wood will help you stay warmer for longer. In our area, different species of Oak and Hickory are commonly sold for firewood, holding a BTU value of anywhere between 24.6 to 27.7 depending on the type of tree. By comparison, Yellow Poplar is valued at only 16.0 and is preferred for getting a fire going or mixing in with other firewood that has a higher BTU. It is not recommended for use as the main fuel to heat the home for this reason, but would be suitable for a small outdoor fire pit.

I have found great use in this particular tree for walking sticks and fleshing beams/stretchers for my hide tanning projects. Though we don’t burn it in the wood stove or mill the boards for major projects, we still find ways to use what is cut down during any land clearing that we may be working on. In conclusion, Tulip Poplar may not be a favorite for firewood or lumber for construction purposes, but it is still valuable for use in crafting and attracting your local wildlife.

Resource List

To learn more about Yellow “Tulip” Poplar, please visit the following websites:

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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