13 Types Of Poplar Trees (With Pictures)

Poplars are trees native to America and they belong to the willow family. Because it is cross-pollinating, there are around 35 cultivars of poplar trees and they are valuable as ornamental plants because of their excellent shade coverage. Some lower growing poplars are also attractive privacy hedges or used as natural windbreak canopies. 

If you are curious about everything poplar tree, from types, identification, growth requirements, and more, this post roundups everything about the popular poplar tree. 

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Facts about tulip poplar trees

This one is considered as the tallest eastern hardwood. It gets its name for its flowers that look like tulips. Here are other interesting facts about the tulip poplar tree. 

  • It comes with many names: whitewood, fiddle tree, tulip tree, and yellow poplar.
  • Tulip poplar trees are important in the Native American history because they were used in making huts and canoes. 
  • It is the state tree of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. It is called there as canoe wood by early settlers.
  • It is also known for its medicinal properties and are turned into ointments and herbal teas. 
  • It is a member of the magnolia family and not poplar or willow trees. 
  • Its tulip-like flowers only bloom after 15 years of growth
  • It grows to up to 150ft and leaves for over 250 years
  • Its trunk grows to up to 50ft without growing a branch

Poplar tree identification

So how would you know if you have spotted a poplar tree? Easy; you must check the bark, the leaves and the flower and here’s how.

Bark

Poplar trees have a smooth bark along with a white, silver-gray color. Its most distinct characteristic would be the lenticels running through the bark. They emerge at a rough growth on a horizontal score and dark colors. 

As it grows into maturity, most poplar trees’ barks become fissured and darken in color. It is confused with birch trees when it comes to bark because they have the same white, silver-gray bark. The only difference is that poplar tree barks never peel. 

Leaves

Poplar trees come in many textures, shapes, and sizes. Some poplar tree leaves have serrated, toothed margins while others are triangular or heart shaped. Some are pointed, while others are lobed, quite resembling the leaves of maple trees. 

But the identifying factor for poplar tree leaves would be their glossy leaves with silver undertones. They literally sparkle under the sun. Quake poplar trees have leaves that look like they are continually trembling. 

Flowers

The flowers of poplar trees are called catkins. They are tiny flowers, a bit elongated, blooms in clusters with a dangling habit and have a conical form. After the bloom time, a furry, cotton-ball like substance appears. 

Types of poplar trees

With all of these interesting facts about the poplar trees, it is but right to know the types of poplar trees that you could consider for landscaping and shade. Here are some of the most popular poplar trees out there that you should know about. 

1. White Poplar Tree (Populus alba)

This large, fast-growing poplar, known for its rounded crown. It has maple-like leaves, complete with serrated edges and silver undersides.

The bark of this poplar has diamond marks. It blooms gray-green catkins in the summer and followed by white, wooly seed hairs. It grows to up to 100ft, provides a lot of shade and is listed under cottonwoods. 

2. Black Poplar Tree (Populus nigra)

Black Poplar Tree (Populus nigra)

This one comes with triangle leaves with an elongated tip and fine teeth on the edges. The leaves are green year-round and then turn golden yellow in the fall. It grows at 65-100ft and gets its name from its very dark bark. Male black poplars bloom yellow-green flowers while female black poplars bloom red flowers. 

3. Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’)

This one is a slender poplar with upright branches, furrowed, dark gray bark, and triangular leaves. It grows to up to 50ft and offers a 60ft shade. It is also called as the Italian poplar and is used mainly as windbreak or for tall hedging.

With its shallow roots, it does not make a good ornamental landscape tree. The leaf of this poplar is deep green but turns golden yellow during fall. Its bark is gray-green and turns black and fissured in maturity. 

4. Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)

Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)

This one gets its name for its scent that resembles balsam fir trees. It is a fast-growing hardwood, with lancing, bright green, finely serrated by the margins leaves and a distinct fissured, red-gray bark. It grows from 80-130ft. When this poplar reaches maturity, the bark becomes dark gray with scaly ridges, and fissures running through its length. 

5. Western Balsam Poplar (Populus trichocarpa)

Western Balsam Poplar (Populus trichocarpa)

This poplar is native to North America. It is also called the black cottonwood growing in between 100-165ft. It is listed as the largest native American poplar tree. It is identifiable for its long and shiny deep green leaves, red dangling flowers, and a hard gray bark. 

Aside from these, it also has a distinct conical crown, with drooping lower branches that create a weeping form. It has an aggressive root system and should not be planted near homes and buildings. 

6. Canadian poplar (Populus × canadensis)

This columnar tree is distinct for its heart shaped leaves, with a rounded base, finely serrated margins, with glossy, deep green appearance that grows densely and offers plenty of shade.

It is a hybrid poplar made from cross breeding a necklace poplar and a black poplar. It has a round, narrowly spreading crown, and produces red catkins during spring. The bark is gray and smooth but turns dark, scaly, and fissured when it matures. 

7. Gray Poplar Tree (Populus × canescens)

This one is a hybrid between white poplar and common aspen. It is a fast-growing, vigorous tree, reaching a height in between 40-70ft. Its leaves are glossy, dark green, and come with a silver underside. 

The leaves are also oval, with rough serrations along the margins. It is distinct for its uneven crown. The bark is white and smooth in its youth and then becomes dark gray with shallow fissures when it reaches maturity. 

8. Japanese poplar (Populus maximowiczii)

Japanese poplar (Populus maximowiczii)
Japaense poplar bark

This columnar poplar is one of the most attractive cultivars and is popularly used as a specimen tree for landscapes. Unlike the others, it does produce wooly suckers, so it leaves a tidy space. It has very slender trunks, with smooth, white-gray bark. 

The leaves are gray-green, leathery, and open from spring to fall. It grows to up to 30ft and blooms red catkins during spring. It is considered as the most disease-resistant poplar in Midwest America. It is native to Japan but is now used as a mother plant to many hardy poplar trees. 

9. Big-Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

This one was steadily used as a landscape tree but because of its fast-spreading root system, it is no longer planted near homes and buildings. It grows in between 60-80ft and is generally disease-resistant. Male big tooth aspens bloom white, creamy flowers while females bloom yellow flowers in spring. 

The leaves are large, with curved teeth. They are silvery-green most seasons but turn golden yellow in the fall. The bark has a cotton-white color on the lower surface and a white-gray color on the top surface. When it becomes mature, the bark becomes dark gray, a bit rough, and fissured. 

10. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Did you know that Pando, a species of the quaking aspen is considered as the oldest living thing in the world? Through prolific suckering, quaking aspens are listed as fast-growing aspens and are marked invasive in some areas. It grows in between 60-85ft. 

Also called as trembling aspens, they get their name from their leaves which quake or tremble even in the lightest wind. The leaves are round in the base, but are generally heart shaped, with fine serrations by the margins. They are deep green most times but turn yellow in the fall. The bark is grayish-white with brown fissures where photosynthesis takes place. 

11. Willow leaved Poplar (Populus angustifolia, narrowleaf cottonwood)

This one is a native of Colorado and found near riverbanks and streams. Unlike other poplars, it is not a steady food supply for wild animals because of its bitter leaves and stems. It is occasionally used as a specimen tree for home landscapes but because of its aggressive root systems, it is no longer one of the immediate choices for landscape trees. 

It is, however, functional for soil erosion regulation. It has long and narrow leaves, serrated by the edges, and deep green in color but turns bright yellow in the fall. The bark is dark gray and fissured and yellow catkins emerge during spring. It is also called the narrowleaf cottonwood. 

12. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

This one is called the necklace poplar. It has crimson red stems, triangle shaped leaves that are coarse in texture and with finely toothed margins. The leaves also constantly flutter with the wind because the leaves are attached to a branch with flat petioles. 

They are dark green in color year-round but turn golden yellow during fall. The bark is smooth and light gray when it is young. When it becomes mature, the bark becomes dark gray, fissured, and rough. 

13. Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)

Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)

This one is usually found in riverbeds, stream banks, and wetlands. It has long been an iconic poplar especially in the west side of the Rocky Mountains but now is listed as endangered due to overgrazing, timber harvesting, and long droughts. It has a broad, open crown. 

The leaves are triangular, deep green (that turns butter yellow in the fall), glossy, with fine serrations on the edge. The bark is smooth and grayish-white that turns into dark gray with fissures in maturity. It needs a stable supply of fresh water to thrive and grows to up to 60ft. 

What are poplar trees used for?

Poplar trees are very functional. Hybrid poplars are usually significant for commercial uses, especially in the landscape industry. Common poplars on the other hand are valuable sources of wood, and food for wildlife. Here are some specific uses of poplar trees. 

Shade and landscaping

Poplar trees offer excellent shade being deciduous trees that extend to up to 50ft in shade cover. The most common shade poplar would be the white poplar. Some, however, are fast-growing with aggressive root systems so they are now just used in parks and in regulating erosion in riverbeds away from homes and buildings.

Privacy and windbreaks

The hybrid ones that can be grown in manageable heights are good for tall hedges to work as added privacy to the home’s perimeter. Because poplars are very sturdy, they are also good as windbreakers. Hybrid poplars are also used for these functions because they are disease-resistant. 

Wood supply

Commercially, hybrid poplars are also sought-after. The increasing demand in hybrid poplar chips is due to their performance as wood pellets and their versatility in providing mulch. The barks are also used for cardboard, pressed board, and paper pulp production. 

Biodiversity

Poplar trees are also planted along streams and river banks because they create a wildlife habitat and purifies underground water. They are also used in erosion control. 

Where do poplar trees grow?

Poplars grow in temperate climates. These trees love full sun, moisture, and nutrient rich, well-draining soils. As such, it is usually found in swamps, riverbanks, and streams. Geographically, you can find poplar trees growing around North America, North Africa, Europe, and Asia

Are poplar trees poisonous?

Fortunately, poplar trees have very low toxin concentration. They are also listed as non-toxic to dogs, horses, and humans. According to ASPCA, poplar trees are more hazardous because they are more prone to breakage and could interfere with underground structures like water pipes and sewers. They are also fast-growing and the branches could disrupt electricity lines. 

Aspen vs poplar trees

Scientifically, there is no difference between aspen and poplar trees. As a matter of fact, poplar trees are divided into aspen trees and cottonwood trees. As such, it is better to differentiate cottonwood from aspen. 

AspenCottonwood
SpeciesBigtooth aspen, quaking aspen and European aspenWhite poplar, Balsam poplar, Eastern cottonwood, Black poplar
Early wood poresSmallLarge
HeartwoodGray-whiteGray-brown
ScentNo scent when wetStrong, foul scent when wet
TextureCoarseSmooth

How to grow and care poplar trees

If you are thinking of growing your own poplar tree, here are some of the growing requirements that you should be familiar with: 

  • Sunlight: poplar trees require full sun to reach their optimum height and shade
  • Soil: these trees are adaptive to many kinds of soils but they mostly prefer slightly acidic, moist, and well-draining soils
  • Water: this tree needs a lot of watering which is the reason why they are planted near riverbanks and streams
  • Pruning: this one is a low-maintenance tree, requiring pruning once a year and dead leaf removal every now and then

Poplar trees growth rate

As have been mentioned, poplar trees are fast growing trees (3-5ft annual growth rate). They grow at a range of 50-160ft. 

Poplar trees pests and diseases

If you are thinking of growing a poplar tree, you should be wary of the following pests and diseases: 

  • Caterpillars
  • Leaf beetles
  • Scales
  • Borers
  • Mealy bugs
  • Aphids
  • Wet wood disease
  • Cankers 

Hybrid poplar trees pros and cons

The hybrid species of poplar trees are taking over popularity because of its valuable contributions to productions of pulpwood, engineered lumber products, and in the energy sector by lessening atmospheric carbon monoxide emissions. So, what are the pros and cons of hybrid poplar trees? 

Pros: 

  • Grows ten times faster than common poplars, yielding profit to farmers twelve times bigger. 
  • They are more disease resistant, easier to plant, and easier to uproot too. 
  • Expanding commercial uses. 

Cons

  • Vulnerable to fungal leaf spots and bark peeling. 
  • Susceptible to cankers. 
  • Short life span (10-15 years). 

Hybrid poplar trees are not perfect. They also have their own drawbacks. Nonetheless, they are good for many commercial uses and are go-to choices when it comes to specimen landscape trees, so they remain to be more popular compared to their common poplar mother plants. 

Where to buy poplar trees?

Poplar trees can be bought in your local nurseries. You can also buy poplar seeds in online marketplaces or sites such as: 

  • Amazon
  • EBay
  • The Tree Center
  • Green Wood Nursery
  • Coldstream Farm
  • Tree Plantation
  • Arbor Day
  • Natural Hills
  • Brighter Blooms

How long do poplar trees live?

Fast-growing trees are conceived to have short-lived lives, but poplar trees stand in contrast with this popular belief because some can survive up to 200 years. As a matter of fact, the oldest living thing on earth is a poplar tree. 

How to stop poplar trees from spreading?

The aggressive root system of poplars can be invasive to properties and in structures such as pavements, pipes, and sewers. To prevent poplar trees from spreading, you can either install a root barrier to force the roots to grow deeper, apply a strong herbicide to rot the stump before uprooting it or you can also forcefully uproot the tree from the root up with heavy duty equipment. 

Conclusion

Poplar trees are not just fascinating in their variances in terms of leaves, barks, and general appearance but also because of their uses such as in providing shade, offering a secure wildlife habitat, for wood and timber source. Poplar trees are divided between aspens and cottonwoods. 

Hybrid poplars, on the other hand, are commercially famous because they are used for landscaping and in providing commercial wood chips. Overall, poplar trees are iconic trees and not just because of their mighty appearance.

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