21 Types of Poplar Trees And How To Identify Them

Poplar trees are tall deciduous trees valued for ornament, shelter belts, pulp and wood, and include cottonwood and aspen. Poplar trees produce bright green leaves. In the fall the leaves sometimes take on a bright yellow or gold color. The flowers of the poplar are yellowish catakins that form on the tree in the spring before the leaves unfurl. Poplar flowers are relatively small and take the form of multiple drooping stems covered in fuzzy growth. The seeds of the tree begin to mature when the leaves reach their full size.

Poplar trees grow 80 to 150 feet high they can send out roots two to three times their height, meaning a root system stretching as far as 160 to 450 feet from the base of the tree. The roots of older poplars can surface after about 16 years and in some cases they have been seen surfacing 50 to 80 feet from the tree. Poplar roots “follow the path of least resistance” and turn when they encounter obstacles such as concrete foundations, but they could pose a problem to drainage systems in urban areas if the roots find cracks in the system

In addition to the large root system, poplars tend to be short-lived, depending on the species and cultivar. While some trees are known to be more than 200 years old, the average poplar lifespan is closer 30 to 50 years, making them a less than ideal choice as a shade tree in the home landscape. Poplars are propagated easily through both softwood and hardwood cuttings, allowing you to start your trees during any time of year. With proper care, your yard will reap the benefits of these attractive shade trees quickly. Here are some of the common poplar trees:

  1. Japanese Poplar
  2. Big-tooth aspen
  3. Trembling Aspen
  4. Lombardy Poplar 
  5. White Poplar
  6. Willow-leaved Poplar
  7. Grey Poplar
  8. Eastern Cottonwood
  9. Canadian Poplar
  10. Fremont Cottonwood
  11. Balsam Poplar
  12. Chinese necklace poplar
  13. Black Poplar
  14. Simon’s Poplar
  15. Laurel-leaf Poplar
  16. Himalayan Poplar
  17. Wilson’s Poplar
  18. Desert Poplar
  19. California Poplar
  20. Narrow Leaf Cottonwood
  21. Downy Poplar

Japanese Poplar

Japanese Poplar grows to about 30m tall when mature. It is characterized by deeply fissured grey bark. The leaves are about 10cm long with toothed edges and a pale green undersides. The catkins are red and about 10cm long and green female catkins 6 in (15 cm) long are borne in early spring. The columnar shaped Japanese poplar is one of the most attractive and practical species options for a backyard landscape.

Bigtooth aspen

Bigtooth aspen is a medium-sized tree with a narrow, rounded crown. It gets its name from the large, blunt teeth along the leaf edge. The leaves are broadly ovate with a sharp-pointed tip and rounded at the base. They are dull green in the summer, turning yellow in the fall. The bark on bigtooth aspen a green-gray and smooth, turning white-grayish and becoming furrowed with flat scaly ridges as it matures. Twigs are slender and brown, and fuzzy when it’s new growth. Its wood is most commonly used for pulp, but its distinctive grain and light heartwood make it a lovely veneer. Moose and ruffed grouse find it an important winter food source.

Also Read: Different Types of Hickory Trees For Landscaping

Trembling Aspen

Trembling aspen trees reach up to 65 feet tall in ideal growing conditions. Aspen tree bark is creamy white with dark brown or light gray markings. In the spring, tiny flowers cluster together forming silvery catkins, which appear before the leaves unfurl. The round to oval leaves grow in light green, then turn bright gold in autumn. Greenish white fruit capsules less than 1/2 inch long appear during the summer.

Lombardy Poplar

Lombardy poplar trees are best known for their columnar form and unusual branching structure—the branches start close to the ground and grow upward, parallel to the trunk. The fall foliage is a yellow color, but these trees are not primarily grown for their autumn display value. The bark turns black and develops furrows as the tree ages. The Lombardy poplar tree is a fast-growing tree, which grows up to 50 feet tall with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. This makes them a popular choice when people want “living wall” privacy screens or windbreaks in a hurry.

White Poplar

Populus alba (White poplar) is a tall, deciduous tree with a broad pyramidal crown. The bark of the young tree is smooth and greenish-white to grayish with characteristic diamond-shaped spots. When the tree matures, the bark at the base of the trunk becomes fissured and blackish. White poplar is a fast-growing but rather short-lived tree. It reaches a height of 27 m, with maximal spread of 2 m. White poplar is a large, fast-growing, relatively short-lived tree for parks, golf courses and other large landscapes. They are often found growing in open, moist sites along waterways.

Also Read: Different Types of Walnut Trees For Your Home

Grey Poplar

The Grey Poplar  is a natural hybrid between the White Poplar and the Aspen. The silver in the leaf from one parent and the flattened petiole from the other which allows the leaf to tremble and means that the poplars are rarely still in summer. Soaring with hybrid vigour to 30 metres they are loftier than either parent. This tree has pale grey bark, triangular to ovate, dark green leaves, grey-downy beneath. Shorter shoots bear oval to rounded leaves, light green beneath. Leaves turn red, orange, and yellow in autumn. Red catkins bloom on male trees in early spring. Green, female catkins are rarely produced.

Eastern Cottonwood

Eastern cottonwood is a large, fast-growing tree found along streams, rivers, and lowland areas.   It grows tall as well, averaging 80-100 ft but potentially growing as high as 200 ft.  It has yellowish twigs, coarsely toothed leaves, and gummy end buds that easily distinguish it from other species of poplar.  Although pyramidal in youth, this tree/shrub will have a broad vase with open branches with age.  The plant becomes ragged and irregular as it further grows.

Fremont Cottonwood

The Fremont Cottonwood grows in riparian areas near streams, rivers, and wetlands. It is a large tree growing from 12-35 meters in height, with a trunk up to 1.5 meter diameter. The bark is smooth when young, becoming deeply fissured with whitish cracked bark on old trees. Flower cluster consists of a long drooping catkin, which blooms from March to April. The leaves are heart-shaped with white veins and coarse crenate teeth along the sides. It’s an important plant for birds and butterflies.

Also Read: Different Types of Ash Trees For Your Home

Balsam Poplar

Balsam Poplar will grow to be about 80 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 50 feet. It is generally notable for its pointed, shiny, oval-shaped leaves and resin-dotted undersides. Apart from other native poplars, this species has sticky, fragrant buds that smell of balsam. Male trees flower in long, hanging catkins before the leaves appear and female trees disperse fluffy seeds into the air in late spring.Many kinds of wildlife use the twigs for food. The light, soft wood is used for pulp and construction. Balsam poplars can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, yet prefer more humid environments such as flood plains, river banks, and other lowland areas. 

Black Poplar

A rare variety, Black poplar thrive on river banks but can be grown in most large spaces. A beautiful tree with whispering green leaves turning yellow in autumn. Fast growing deciduous spreading tree with a dark bark and diamond-shaped bronze leaves turning to bright green when mature. Red catkins are borne in mid spring. Once chopped down to the verge of extinction, there has been an awakened interest in their conservation and regeneration. This tree produces bright red catkins. Columnar black poplars are widely used in ornamental landscape plantings, particularly among the villas of Italy and elsewhere in southern Europe.

Himalayan Poplar

Himalayan poplar, is a large deciduous tree with tall clean straight trunk and wide rounded crown. The bark of the young trees is smooth greenish-grey and the bark of the old trees is dark brown with vertical cracks. Leaves are broadly ovate with serrulate-crenate and hairy margins. Flowers are drooping raceme catkins appear before or with leaves. Flowers are dioecious, individual flowers are either male or female. Perianth of male flowers is bell-shaped and female flowers are bluntly toothed. Their capsule encloses an average of 100–150 seeds, which are covered by long silky hair.

Also Read: Different Types of Fast Growing Shade Trees

Euphrates or Desert Poplar

The Euphrates poplar is a medium-sized tree that may grow to a height of about 15 m and a girth of 2.5 m where conditions are favourable. The stem is typically bent and forked; old stems have thick, rough, olive-green bark. While the sapwood is white, the heartwood is red, darkening to almost black at the centre. The roots spread widely but not deeply. The leaves are highly variable in shape. It is used in afforestation programs on saline soils in desert regions, and to create windbreaks and check erosion. The bark is reported to have antihelminthic properties

California Poplar

California Poplar is a large tree, growing to a height of 30 to 50 metres and a trunk diameter over 2 m, which makes it the largest poplar species in the Americas. It is normally fairly short-lived, but some trees may live up to 400 years.

Downy Poplar

Downy poplar can reach a height 50 to 100 ft at maturity. The trunk and branches are a light to medium grey, with the trunk being coarsely furrowed. The leaves are alternate deciduous that are 4-6 inches long and 3-4 inches across. Mature leaves are medium to dark green on their upper surface and pale green on the lower surface. Petioles are 2-3 inches long and tend to be between pale green or pale yellow.

Hybrid Poplars

Hybrid poplars are a result of crossing two known poplar varieties to get a new variety. These crosses result from both natural pollination and plant breeding. Hybrid poplars were developed to retain the fast-growing characteristics of their parent plants while increasing disease resistance and tolerance to a wider range of climates. Examples include the imperial poplar (Populus x euramericana “Imperial”), manitou poplar (Populus x “Manitou”), prairie sky poplar (Populus x euramericana “Prairie Sky”) and walker poplar (Populus x “Walker”).

Further References

  1. Facts About Genus Populus: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus
  2. Types of Poplar Trees: https://www.thespruce.com/popular-poplar-trees-5093743
  3. Poplar Trees: https://housegrail.com/types-of-poplar-trees/
  4. Are Poplar Trees Good or Bad: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/poplar/growing-poplar-trees.htm
  5. Hybrid Poplar: https://shop.arborday.org/hybrid-poplar-2