Poplar Trees: Identification Guide (Bark, Leaves, Size & Shape)


Poplar tree (Populus) is a deciduous tree that belongs to the family Salicaceae. Poplar tree can be found throughout northern hemisphere (North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa). There generally about 35 species of poplar trees that differ in size, shape of the leaves, color of the bark and type of growth habitat. Poplar trees can grow very tall and anchor their trunks with powerful roots. Every poplar tree bears both male and female flowers during the spring. They also have fruits which are small capsules that contain the seeds.  In this article get to understand how to identify, grow and care for poplar tree together its uses.

Poplar Tree

Plant Profile

Botanical NamePopulus
Common NamePoplar
Plant TypeDeciduous
Maturity Size50 to 165 feet tall and 5 and 10 feet wide
Sunlight RequirementFull Sun
Soil TypeSandy and loamy soil
Soil PHNeutral to alkaline
Bloom TimeSpring
Water RequirementHigh
Life cycleLess than 50 years
VarietiesWhite poplar, Lombardy poplar, Eastern and Balsam poplar
ProblemsCaterpillar, leaf beetles, aphids etc.

What You Need To Know Poplar Tree

  • Poplar tree is a deciduous plant (develops individual male and female flowers).
  • Poplar tree are common throughout northern hemisphere (North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa).
  • There are at least 35 species of poplar tree that somehow differ in shape, size of the leaves, color of the bark and type of habitat.
  • Poplar tree is often found near the rivers, pond and swamps.
  • Depending on the variety, poplar tree can grow between 50 to 165 feet in height and between 5 and 10 feet wide.
  • Most varieties of poplar tree have oval or heart-shaped, finely toothed on the edges. The leaves also have flattened petioles which ensure trembling of the leaves even on the slightest breeze.
  • Bark of poplar tree can be white, light green, brownish or grey in color. It can be smooth (young trees) or covered with deep ridges (old trees).
  • Every poplar tree bears both male and female flowers and springtime before the leaves open, you can observe hanging clusters of yellow blossoms.
  • The fruits of popular tree which can be described as a reddish or green capsule-like become mature during the summer. The fruit contains large quantity of miniature seeds. The fruits also appear before the poplar’s leaf.
  • The poplar tree dies in less than 50 years even with best tree care.
  • Poplar tree develops root system that can reach 120 feet wide. The roots can easily destroy the nearby sidewalks and sewage system in the urban areas.
  • Wood of poplar tree can be described as lightweight and strong at the same time.
  • The seeds of poplar tree are covered with long, silky hairs which help during the process of wind dispersal.
  • People grow poplar tree because it grows quickly, provides enough shade and that its wood can be used for various purposes such as bio-fuel.
  • Poplar tree grows mostly in temperate climates. It requires enough moisture, direct sunlight and soil rich in nutrients.

How To Grow And Care for poplar Tree


Generally all varieties of poplar trees are tolerant of partial shade but to thrive well, this tree requires full, direct sunlight. If you live in a foggy area, make sure that you plant the poplar tree in an area that receives at least six to eight hours of full sunlight during the day.


Poplar tree is not terribly fussy about its soil conditions and will tolerate a wide range of textures provided there is good drainage and no pooling of stagnant water in the soil. Light clay, sand, loam and humus are very ideal for the growth of poplar tree.

Heavy clay soils or soils with poor drainage should just be amended with aged livestock manure and compost together with coarse sand and small quantities of perlite or peat moss so as to improve drainage and circulation of oxygen at the root zone. Manure and compost will boost the soil quality and provide nutrients for the poplar roots.

Soil Acidity

Poplar tree grows effectively in both slightly acid as well as slightly alkaline soil PH.  The ideal range to provide is between 6.0 and 8.0 PH. Soils higher than 8.0 and very alkaline should be amended with sulfur or other acidifiers to lower the PH. On the other hand, when the soil PH is lower in PH than 6.0, it should be amended with lime or acid neutralizers to raise PH.


During the initial stages of growth, you can apply a slow-release tree fertilizer with a guaranteed analysis of 4-1-4 or 3-1-2 to help to boost soil fertility gently over time. This indeed will enhance faster growth of your poplar tree.


During dry weather young poplar trees require to be watered at least twice a week. However, large trees can tolerate drought and still remain healthy. If your young poplar tree sits in an irrigated lawn, avoid watering it further.


Poplar tree can grow effectively in both winter and in hot, humid climates.


Due to the rapid growth of this tree, pruning is absolutely necessary. It poses a competitive challenge to other trees in the nearby area and the brittle branches pose a possible danger to passersby. Prune out dead and weak growth in later winter to early spring.

Uses Of Poplar Tree

  • Poplar is commonly used in the manufacture of musical instruments such as guitars, violins and drums.
  • It is used mainly for pallets, crates and upholstered furniture frames.
  • Being a soft hardwood, it is not particularly good for countertops or other services which will be subject to wear.
  • Poplar tree can be used for ceiling modeling.
  • Due to its diminishing feature, it is used for furniture or cabinet work which requires to be finished with an opaque or very dark stained final look.
  • It is used for making matches, pallets and boxes.
  • Poplar is used in the manufacturing of picture frames.
  • Due to its exceptional flexibility, it is used widely in the snowboard industry for the snowboard core.
  • Poplar wood can be used to produce chopsticks or wooden shoes.
  • It is used for painted trim and furnishings.
  • Due to its high tannic acid content, its bark has been used in Europe for tanning leather.
  • It is used for pallets and cheap plywood.
  • Fast-growing hybrid poplars are grown to be used as pulpwood in the manufacture of paper.
  • Polar wood is also used to make interior parts of cabinets and drawers.
  • Poplar can be machined to produce very finely detailed pieces such as cornices, chair rails and other molding.
  • During the ancient times, poplar tree was used in the making of the battle shields.

Varieties Of Poplar Tree

  1. White Poplar Tree

Populus alba, commonly referred to as silver poplar, silverleaf poplar or white poplar grows in moist regions, often by watersides, in regions with hot summers and cold to mild winters. It is a medium-sized variety of deciduous polar tree, growing to heights of up to 15-30 m (49-98 ft), with a trunk up to 2 m (6.6ft) in diameter and a broad, rounded crown.  The bark is smooth and greenish-white to grayish-white with characteristic diamond-shaped dark marks on young trees, becoming blackish and fissured at the base of old trees.

  1. Lombardy Poplar Tree/Black Poplar

Lombardy polar tree also referred to as populus nigra Italica has diamond-shaped leaves that change from bright green to blazing golden yellow, with flowers in catkins and pollination achieved by the wind. It is a large to medium-sized variety of poplar growing between 20-30 m tall and rarely 40 m tall. Their trunks can grow up to 1.5 m in diameter. It’s one of the most popular types of poplar trees and can be used to quickly create a privacy wall or hedge.

  1. Eastern Poplar Tree

This variety has a large genetic diversity and can grow from 15-15 m (49-164 ft) tall, with trunks up to 2.5 m (8 ft) in diameter. The bark of this tree is often smooth, white to greenish or dark grey. The leaf size is very variable even on a single tree, typically with small leaves on side shoots and very large leaves on strong-growing lead shoots.

  1. Theves Poplar Tree

Theves poplar (Poplus nigra Afghanica) is simply a sterile female strain of the Lombardy poplar tree. Unlike the Lombardy poplar, the Theves poplar is a hardy tree and lives relatively longer. A mature Theves poplar is between 40 and 75 feet tall.

The Theves poplar grows in a tall, upright column, with branches that angle upwards. Its deep-green leaves are oval in shape with triangular, pointed ends. During the fall months, the leaves turn deep yellow and subsequently drop off during the winter months.

  1. Balsam Poplar Tree

Balsam poplar tree also commonly referred to as, populus balsamifera, balm poplar, tacamahac, balm of Gilead, bam tree or hackmatack is a fast-growing variety of poplar tree that prefers open areas like meadows and does well in city parks. Balsam poplar tree can grow up to 100 feet (30 m) tall.

The leaves of Balsam poplar are arranged alternate and ovate shaped with fine-toothed edges and pointy tips. They can reach lengths up to 6 inches or 15 cm. The leaves are shiny dark green on the upper side and pale green on the lower side.

  1. Carolina Poplar

Carolina poplar tree also referred to as Canadian poplar or Populus Canadensis is a naturally occurring hybrid of populus nigra and populus deltoids. The leaves of the Canadian poplar are triangular to ovate. They are dark green, glossy and very tight. In the sprouting the leaves are red-brownish. The leaf margin is notched.

How To Transplant A Poplar Tree

  • Water your young poplar tree deeply a night before the actual transplanting day to ensure that roots do not undergo the stress of drying out after transplanting.
  • Select a planting area that receives full sunlight or at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Also the area should have rich soil and plenty of room to accommodate the poplar tree at maturity. More importantly, the area should be at least 80 feet distance from buildings, utility poles and wires.
  • Amend the native soil of the area with dead organic matter such as rotten livestock manure or compost. This is important as it will improve the fertility and drainage of the area.
  • On the actual day of transplanting, dig holes that are large enough to accommodate the root of your poplar tree.
  • Use a shovel to uproot the young poplar tree from the nursery bed, being careful not to damage the shallow and soft spongy roots.
  • Get the young poplar tree/seedlings and place them into these holes. Cover the root balls with soil and pack them firmly and then water the soil thoroughly.

Poplar Tree problems: Diseases And Pests

Willow Leaf beetles

The adults and larvae of willow leaf beetles feed away part of the leaf surface, causing the remaining damaged areas to turn brown and dry up. Fortunately, although the damage they cause to your poplar tree can be unsightly, it is something that your tree can survive and severe damage does not usually occur every year.


Aphids are slow moving insects and come in green, red, brown black and yellow shade. They common appear in colonies on the undersides of deciduous plant leaves. They feed on leaves and use their piercing mouth to suck on sap from poplar tree. Heavily infested leaves can wilt or turn yellow because of excessive sap sucking. While aphids attack may cause your poplar tree to appear bad, aphid feeding generally will not seriously affect healthy, established poplar tree.

Oystershell scale

Oystershell scale is a scale insect that is a pest of trees and woody plants. Poplar tree is sometimes infested with oystershell scales that usually attach themselves to the bark and cause injury by sucking the sap a factor that can result to the yellowing of leaves or death of branches.

Foliage Diseases

Poplar is susceptible to foliage diseases such as leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew which damage the aesthetic appearance of the tree.

Moth Caterpillars

Moth Caterpillars are more destructive caterpillars and are common from July to September. They cause a lot of damage to poplar tree foliage and flowers.

Honey Fungus

Honey fungus shows itself as a white fungus between the bark and the body of the tree itself and sometimes you may see honey-gold mushrooms sprouting near the roots of the tree during autumn.

Canker and Dieback

Many varieties of Poplar tree are commonly susceptible to canker, a bacterial disease that causes sunken, gum-producing lesions to appear on branches and trunks. The disease is very much prevalent that it often infects poplar trees by the time the tree is 10 to 15 years. Canker inhibits growth and contributes to the tree’s short lifespan. To effectively control canker, prune and destroy dead branches regularly.

Vascular Wilt Diseases

Vascular wilt disease is caused by pathogenic fungi or bacteria that enter the water-conducting xylem vessels of a plant then proliferate within the vessels, causing blockage.  The typical symptoms include wilting and death of leaves, followed often by death or serious impairment of the whole plant.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Poplar A Hard Or Soft Wood?

Botanically, poplar is an angiosperm, which is usually classified as hardwood. Therefore, poplar is a hardwood.

Is Poplar Easily Adaptable Plant?

Poplar trees adapt easily to a variety of environmental conditions as long as their requirements for sun, water and nutrients are met. If any of these factors is limited, growth will be slowed.

Where Do Poplar Trees Grow Fast?

Poplar trees thrive in areas with moist soil and warm climate. They grow more prolifically in the southern states of United States where these conditions are certain.

Are Poplar Trees Prone To Falling?

Poplar trees grow between 80 to 140 feet high and according to expert botanist, they can send between two to three times their heights, meaning a root system stretching as far as 160 to 450 feet from the base of the tree. Therefore, it is quite difficult for poplar trees to fall by themselves unless they fall as a result of strong wind blow.

Can Poplar Be Used For Medicinal Purposes?

The bark, leaf and dried, unopened buds of the poplar are used to make medicines. In Europe, North America and other temperate regions Poplar is used for cough and wound healing though there is no strong scientific evidence to support such use.