What's the difference between yellow poplar and tulip poplar?
In my part of the country, yellow poplar is readily available. I hear people from other parts of the country talk about tulip poplar. What's the difference?
—Wes McMurtry, Columbus, Ohio
There is no difference, Wes. The wood (and tree) is the same, only the names differ. In fact, the name list goes on: poplar, tulipwood, whitewood, canoewood. The tree's formal name is Liriodendron tulipifera, and it's native to the eastern third of North America.
Yellow poplar grows fast, producing fine-grained, stable hardwood. But because a single board (shown above) might include yellow, cream, green, brown, and sometimes purple tones, it can be difficult to finish to an even color with stain or dye. For that reason, use yellow poplar as a secondary wood, such as for hidden casework, drawer boxes, or painted projects.
And where did those florid names come from? The tree's greenish-yellow flowers, shown below, resemble tulips.