White poplar is a non-native tree of the UK but is now a naturalised species. It copes well in damp and moist soils so is often seen by watersides. They can also tolerate salty winds so will happily survive by the coast. A good example of this is Exmouth train station - there are several White poplar trees by the tracks. The name White poplar is true to it's name - most parts of the tree are white!
White poplars are not suitable as street or park trees due to the invasive roots as well as the growing habits tending to be a bit 'wonky'. They are also fast growing but fairly short lived - usually around 50 years in urban areas. For these reasons - they are not widely planted in Exeter. Although they can spread via see they tend to send out lots of suckers and colonise the area. Being a part of the Poplar family they are prone to a condition called Poplar scab which can seriously weaken the tree. In Manchester over 1,700 Black poplar trees were felled due to the spread and severity of the infection.
This tree is the most likely to stand out in the distance and can sometimes look like it's covered in snow. In suitable conditions White poplar can grow up to 20 meters. The underside of the leaves are covered in white coloured hairs and the younger twigs are also coated with the same fine white hairs. As the tree grows older the twigs become more knobbly and they lose the hairy coating. The buds are pressed fairly closely to the twig which is a common trait for members of the Willow family.
The canopy is quite open and allows a lot of light to the ground
On a windy day they really stand out with the shimmers of white
White poplar is dioecious which means the male and female flowers are on separate trees. The flowers (catkins) are wind pollinated and dangle freely to allow the pollen to be blown by the wind. The male catkins are red and the female catkins are a yellowish-green. Once fertilised the female catkins turn into white fluffy seeds during the late summer. If there is enough of them it might look like it's snowing!
The flowering season for White poplar is March to April so it provides an early source of food for a lot of our insects. Later on the seeds are often eaten by small birds such as tits and finches. The leaves are also a source of food for a wide variety of caterpillars such as the yellow-line quaker and sallow kitten. The wood has little use in the timber industry as it's very soft and not durable.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- White poplar is also known as silver poplar, silverleaf poplar, Dutch beech or abele
- It is native to Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula through central Europe (north to Germany and Poland) to central Asia
- It grows in moist sites, often by watersides, in regions with hot summers and cold to mild winters
- It is a medium-sized deciduous tree, growing to heights of up to 16–27 m (usually 20m)
- The bark is grey / white with black diamond shapes (in older trees)
- White poplar hybridises with the closely related Aspen (Populus tremula); the resulting hybrid, known as Grey poplar
- It is dioecious, so there are separate male and female trees
- The flowers and seeds are wind pollinated
- The root system tends to be quite shallow so not suitable near drains, pipes or housing
- White poplar was first introduced to North America in 1748 and has a long history in cultivation
- The majority of white poplars in cultivation in northern Europe are female trees
- A yellow dye is produced from the bark of the white poplar
- A conical cultivar from Turkestan, Populus alba 'Pyramidalis' is sometimes planted in parks
- The wood is soft but close-grained and easy to carve, shrinking very little during seasoning
- It has been used for sculpture from Europe to China and the US
- The white poplar is an invasive species in many parts of Australia
- White poplar is also an environmental weed in South Africa
- Because of its extensive root system and tolerance of salt, it can be planted to strengthen coastal sand dunes
- White poplar requires abundant light and ample moisture, and stands up well to flood water and slightly acidic soils
- The timber from white popular is very light, though soft and not particularly durable
- White poplar trees are planted as a wind break, particularly on the coast
- Suckers grow from the tree’s base which initially give good ground cover and spread to create a dense thicket
- In ancient Greek mythology, the white poplar was consecrated to Hercules after he destroyed Cacus (a fire-breathing giant)
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