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Plant Profile: White Poplar (Populus alba)

Populus alba lvsWhite poplar is a suckering deciduous tree native to moist areas in Europe and central Asia but widely planted throughout the US where it naturalized and is especially prevalent in the East. It is a member of the willow family (Salicaceae) that also includes aspen and cottonwood. With a wide-spreading, open canopy, the tree has grayish white bark and greenish white branches with white wooly twigs and buds. The bark darkens with maturity and becomes fissured. The leaves have wavy margins and three to five lobes, and are toothed and two to six inches long by 1.5 to 3.5 inches wide. They are dark green above and covered by white wooly hairs beneath so give a shimmering effect in a breeze. In spring red male flowers and grayish green female flowers appear in catkins two to three inches long on different trees before the leaves emerge. Female flowers elongate after pollination and give way to small capsules that open in late spring to early summer and contain numerous tufted seeds. White popular is an adaptable tree and good for such uses as erosion control and windscreens but because the roots are shallow, spreading, and invasive, the trees should be grown far from sewer lines, drains, sidewalks, and pavements. In addition, strong winds may topple the trees and/or break branches, and abundant seed production and suckering may allow white poplar to crowd out native species.

populus-alba-barkType: Deciduous tree

Outstanding Feature: Leaves, bark

Form: Irregular open canopy

Growth Rate: Rapid

Female Catkin

Female Catkins

Bloom: Red male flowers and grayish green female flowers in catkins two to three inches long on different trees before the leaves emerge in spring

Size: 40-75’ H x 40-75’ w

Light: Full sun; tolerates some shade

Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained; tolerates wet soils and some drought

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Populus alba cottonly

Female Catkins with Mature Seeds

Care: Pruning when young is necessary to encourage a pleasing shape; prune high in fall. Tree can take heavy pruning.

Pests and Diseases:
Leaf hoppers, thrips, borers, aphids, caterpillars, scale, dieback, canker, rust, powdery mildew

Propagation: Very fresh seed, division of suckers, hardwood cuttings

Comments: All-male trees and columnar varieties available.