|Leaf Shape||Vary from oval to heart-shaped|
|Mature Height||Exceed 150 feet|
|Best Habitat||Warm regions with wet soil
|Best Climate||Warm to hot|
|Output||Yellow flowers and thick-skinned capsules which contain seeds|
|Uses||Paper, boxes, veneer|
Poplar trees are extremely desirable for homeowners looking to infuse their yards with shade and beauty. The trees are members of the Populus genus. They are fast-growing and thrive in warm conditions. Poplar trees are also very easy to care for which is why they are popular with people who lack landscaping experience.
Appearance of the Tree
A staple in the Northern Hemisphere, the deciduous Poplar tree can grow to heights exceeding 150 feet. Most Poplars range between 50 and 165 feet and feature large, sturdy trunks that measure up to eight feet in diameter. In addition to their towering size, Poplar trees feature other distinguishable characteristics, including:
- Leaves: Poplar leaves range in size and shape, though most are oval to heart-shaped and have fine teeth along the edges. The leaves are green in the spring and summer, but turn yellow and gold in the fall.
- Flowers: The trees have both male and female flowers which bloom in the spring before the leaves appear. The pretty yellow blossoms grow in clusters and hang from the branches.
- Fruit: Like the flowers, the Poplar fruit appears before the leaves are fully grown. The fruits are small, thick-skinned capsules that feature four valves. Each green to reddish-brown capsule contains dozens of tiny seeds covered with silky white hairs. The fine hairs help the seeds disperse on windy days.
- Bark: The bark of Poplars is smooth and soft and range in color from white to dark grey. As the tree matures, the bark becomes rough and uneven; it can also become cracked and wrinkled depending on weather conditions.
Most Poplar trees are fast growers, but they also have a short life span of less than 50 years.
Poplar Tree Types
There are more than 35 species of Poplar trees around the world. However, the most popular types are found in North America:
- White Poplar: This massive Poplar grows up to 100 feet tall and its leaf canopy can spread up to 60 feet wide. The tree thrives in southern states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, where it can bask in warm temperatures. Unlike some of its cousins, the White Poplar has a high drought tolerance and can easily grow in different types of soil and climate conditions. It is known for its large dark green leaves and may have diamond-shaped marks in the bark.
- Lombardy Poplar: The Lombardy Poplar has a highly distinctive diamond shape. Its bark is long and column-like while its branches extend upward rather than outward from the trunk. The unique growth pattern gives the Poplar the shape of an elongated pyramid.
- Eastern Poplar: This extra-large Poplar is also known as the Eastern Cottonwood. It can exceed heights of 100 feet with a trunk size of four feet in diameter. Its leaves are also big and feature serrated edges. Due to its impressive size and need for sunlight, the eastern Poplar is used primarily for shade in large recreational areas.
- Balsam Poplar: Found throughout the northern portion of the United States, the Balsam Poplar, also known as Black Cottonwood, thrives in swampy soil. It features aromatic fruit clusters that house dozens of seeds.
Where the Poplar Grows
Poplar trees grow best in climates with mild winters and warm summers. While the Poplar can be found in parts of Asia and Europe, the trees are mainly centralized in southern states, such as:
- South Carolina
The southern portion of the United States makes for an ideal habitat for the Poplar tree because of the region's moist ground. Poplar trees thrive in soil found along riverbeds. In addition, due to their large size, Poplar trees need space to spread out and do not grow well in compact areas where they have a difficult time absorbing nutrients.
The Poplar's eye-pleasing blossoms are an attractive part of the tree; however, its bark and branches are what really make it a hot commodity. The Poplar's exceptionally flexible wood is used in a variety of different ways to construct:
- Electric guitars
In addition, since the 1970s, the Poplar has been used as an energy crop for biofuel systems thanks in large part to its fast growth and large carbon mitigation potential.
The Poplar tree has its roots in ancient Rome. The name Populus refers to the practice of planting the trees near public meeting places in Rome in the early sixth century. The Greeks and Etruscans went on to make shields from Poplar's durable wood, though its versatility doesn't end there. Poplar trees have been embraced throughout the world, including in Japan where the wood is used to make chopsticks and in Europe where tannic acid extracted from the tree's bark is used to create tanning leather. Poplar wood is also prized in Italy where it is used as the base for paintings. In fact, one of the world's most treasured paintings—the Mona Lisa—was created on Poplar.
Despite its durability the Poplar is not immortal. The tree is susceptible to two major diseases:
- Wetwood: This bacteria causes sap to ferment and ooze out of the tree's cracks. The fermented sap, or flux, has a sour odor and causes ugly grey streaks on the tree's bark. There is no known treatment for the condition which can persist for many years.
Canker: Also known as "dieback," the disease is caused by fungi and targets the Lombardy Poplar in particular. Dark holes form where the fungus enters cracks in the tree. These cankers can interfere with water and nutrient flow, and eventually kill the tree.
Other enemies of the Poplar include:
- Leaf-eating caterpillars
- Leaf beetles
- Mealy bugs
Poplar trees prefer wet soils and full sunlight. Since they tower to incredible heights, it is not a good idea to plant Poplartrees near power lines. In addition, since the roots are so large and disruptive, you should not plant a Poplar close to a sidewalk or sewer line.
Other helpful growing tips include:
- Water the Poplar regularly
- Select a spot in your yard where water collects and plant your Poplar there
- Prune off broken, dead or diseased branches
- Do not plant Poplars if you live in a region which experiences strong winds on a regular basis
- Treat your Poplar with fungicide in the spring to prevent infections
Poplar trees need very little care to grow and prosper, though that perk comes at a price. Since they don't live long, you will have to replant new Poplars every few years if you want to maintain the look of your landscaping.