From the poplar trees

Life Span of Poplar Trees

Winter a poplar image by Viktor Khomenko from

Poplars are well-known deciduous trees. They have been a large part of the American timber industry, which has led to the development of a fast-growing and popular hybrid. Commercial planting of poplars began in the 1970s as part of a government reforestation and reclamation project. Poplars are members of the willow family and have crossed with native tree species to create natural hybrids. Poplar trees are known to be extremely fast growing and have a variety of shapes and uses.


Poplars are closely related to cottonwoods and aspens. They have also cross-pollinated with these trees, creating hybrids of the two species. All poplars are deciduous, but leaves and canopy shape is different among the trees. White Poplar and Balm of Gilead Poplar were introduced from Asia. Cottonwood or Eastern Poplar is a massive hybrid, as is Swamp Poplar. Bigtooth and Quaking Aspen are also poplar hybrids. Southern Poplar is native to the U.S. and Lombardy Poplar is a cultivar.


Poplars are considered short-lived trees. There are trees that can live a 1,000 years and the poplar lifespan is one-tenth of that on average. The key may be the rapid growth of the plant. Producing repetitive cell cloning takes energy that is not expended on other tree processes. Some poplar species live longer than others–the growth rate may provide a clue why.

Life Span

The Virginia Big Tree Program has compiled a list of common trees of the Americas and their life spans. The Balsam Poplar lives an average of 100 years and can live up to 150 years. The Yellow Poplar has a much longer life span at 250 years on average, and a maximum of 450 years. The Hybrid Poplar will only reach 30 to 50 years of age, a relatively short life span. It is primarily used for timber and harvested between six and 12 years old.


Poplars will only live as long as environment and man will allow. Trees are heavily influenced by pollution and environmental stress. Poplars are often plagued by fungus, cankers and blight. Bronze birch borer and gypsy moths are just two of numerous pests that afflict poplars. Forestry management has some affect on tree age, due to culling to increase green spaces and encourage a healthy deciduous forest. Tree age is also influenced by adequate growing space.

Growth Rate

All poplars are known to be prodigious growers. The Lombardy Poplar is often planted as a hedge or windbreak as it will mature in just a few years. Hybrid poplars grow around 6 feet per year and can reach maturity in a short time. They can reach 20 feet high in just three years with a full mature height of 70 feet tall. The growth rate relation to life span shows promise in the case of the hybrid poplar, a rapid grower with a short life span.


Common species

Two well-known poplar species of Eurasia are the white and the black poplar. The white poplar (P. alba)—also known as silver poplar for its leaves, which have white felted undersides, and as maple leaf poplar for the leaves’ lobed margins—is widely spreading or columnar in form, reaching 30 metres (100 feet) in height. The gray poplar (P. ×canescens), a close relative of the white poplar, has deltoid (roughly triangular) leaves with woolly grayish undersides. The black poplar, or black cottonwood (P. nigra), has oval fine-toothed leaves, is long-trunked, and grows to a height of 35 metres (115 feet). Columnar black poplars are widely used in ornamental landscape plantings, particularly among the villas of Italy and elsewhere in southern Europe. White and black poplars are widely planted in the eastern United States and in Canada.

The balsam poplar, or tacamahac (P. balsamifera), which is native throughout northern North America in swampy soil, is distinguished by its aromatic resinous buds. The buds of the balm of Gilead poplar (P. ×jackii), which is similar, are used to make an ointment. The western balsam poplar, also called black cottonwood (P. trichocarpa), grows some 60 metres (195 feet) tall and is one of the largest deciduous trees of northwestern North America.

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The common European aspen (P. tremula) and the American quaking, or trembling, aspen (P. tremuloides) are similar trees and reach a height of about 27 metres (90 feet). Quaking aspen is distinguished by its leaves, which have more-pointed tips, and spreads by rhizomes (underground stems). The American big-tooth aspen (P. grandidentata) grows up to 18 metres (59 feet) and has larger, somewhat rounded, coarse-toothed leaves.

quaking aspenA stand of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) trees. Such stands are often clonal, as the species readily spreads by underground stems known as rhizomes.Charles Hannum/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Cottonwood trees have distinctive deeply fissured bark and are exceptionally tolerant of flooding and erosion. Native to North America, the common, or eastern, cottonwood (P. deltoides) reaches nearly 30 metres (100 feet) tall and bears thick glossy leaves. The Fremont, or Alamo, cottonwood (P. fremontii) is the tallest of the cottonwoods and is found throughout southwestern North America.

Fremont cottonwoodThe Fremont, or Alamo, cottonwood tree (Populus fremontii) is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is one of the largest hardwood trees of North America.Amy Gaiennie/National Park Service

Hybrid Poplar

If you need fast shade and screening, this improved tree is a serious contender. Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoides x Populus nigra) is a really fast growing shade tree.

Also called a Seedless or Cottonless Cottonwood, this naturally occurring hybrid is one of the fastest growing trees that we sell. A best-seller, it produces no cottony seed to make a mess.

This elegant tree grows into a tall pyramidal form. It requires little – if any – pruning because it will mature naturally into a neat outline.

Hybrid Poplars are fantastic plants to include in shelterbelts and windbreak plantings. They quickly form the bones of the barrier you desire. These trees are widely adaptable and will tolerate nearly any kind of soil.

Once young plants are established, they can put on 6, 8, or even more feet of new growth in a single season. Luckily, they are not only fast growing, but are also strong-wooded and long-lived.

They will make a sophisticated choice for a windbreak or privacy screen. It is also perfect to line a driveway or use as a fast growing shade tree for your yard.

From spring through summer, Hybrid Poplar will be beautiful cloaked in unique, shiny, dark green almost triangular leaves. In the fall you will be captivated by the stunning yellow leaves waving in the breeze.

The sound of the leaves in a gentle wind is an often overlooked attribute of the Poplar. You’ll appreciate the lovely rustling sound, which helps mask the modern city sounds of nearby traffic.

If you’re looking for an attractive, fast-growing, care free and large shade tree you can’t go wrong with the Hybrid Poplar. It’s a perfect choice anywhere you’d like to have a tree quickly.

They’ll even grow in poor soils. As you know, many times construction sites for commercial and residential areas do not always leave behind the best soils. Hybrid Poplar won’t mind. They can perform quickly and beautifully in terrible fill dirt with rocks, stones and sand.

A favorite of home owners and builders, the Hybrid Poplar is a great looking, hardy tree. It can grow in almost any climate and will thrive just about anywhere.

Order today, these lovely trees sell out quickly.

How to Use Hybrid Poplar in the Landscape

The perfect tree for interplanting in shelterbelts and windbreaks for sure creating the fastest vertical barrier until the other trees have a chance to catch up. Don’t forget to mix with some natural groups of Pines, Spruce or evergreens that work well in your area.

Hybrid Poplar look great used in a natural informal grouping. Just vary the distance between plants and rows when planting.

A grouping of an odd number of trees on a large scape property will not only block the winds and snows, but also help to create a nice microclimate. Use it as a backdrop for a lovely mixed shrub border.

Hybrid Poplar are fantastic fast growing trees that will grow in most any soil which opens lots of doors for tough sites. Commercial sites love to use them at highway interchanges and where the soils have been disturbed or backfilled with poor soils for growing.

These are great trees for commercial use for new highways, golf courses, and new subdivisions in addition to creating fast growing wind protection in wide open areas.

Golf courses like to use them for defining the fairways, and creating some protection between holes from errant shots, and areas that are too dry or poor soils.

#ProPlantTips for Care

Hybrid Poplar is adaptable to most soils. However, you will want to give it a moderate amount of supplemental water,if you don’t get adequate rainfall. Protect your investment and screening with roughly an inch of water a week.

If you need to prune a branch, do so in early spring before it starts to grow for the season. Give the tree plenty of space to reach its full height and width. You won’t want to prune for size control.

This is a great plant for an open area. Give at least 30 feet from drainage fields, driveways and sidewalks to give room for the entire root systems. Use it in the right spot, and you’ll fall in love.

This fast-growing, long-lived seedless version of the beloved native Cottonwood is a treasure. Order yours today!

Superior Hybrid Poplar Tree

Classic Shade Grows Up to 8 Feet Per Year

Why Superior Hybrid Poplar Trees?

It’s one of the fastest-growing and most attractive shade trees you can find. Superior Hybrid Poplar Trees quickly become established and can add thousands of dollars to a home’s value. Plus, Hybrid Poplars have a pleasing oval shape that complements any property.

Simply plant these Poplars wherever you need fast shade or privacy. They’ve been known to grow up to 8 feet in a single year. So, you can strategically plant them to block the direct sunlight, dramatically lowering your air conditioning costs. In the winter, they drop their dense green foliage, letting sunlight through when it’s needed most.

Why is Better

When you receive your trees, they may not look like much…but plant them, stand back and watch the explosive growth take hold. Our Superior Hybrid Poplar Trees are better because we’ve not only planted, grown and shipped them with care, but ours have also been grafted. Our Superior Poplar is a cross between the Cottonwood and Lombardy Poplar and merges the best benefits of each type: Full, symmetrical growth without the annoying cotton balls from regular Cottonwoods.

Now, you reap the rewards of tried-and-true growth and a healthier, well-tended root system.

We’ve done the hard work at the nursery so that you get a better formed, long-lived tree. Order your Superior Hybrid Poplar Tree today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Hybrid Poplars grow well in various soils – simply make sure you’re planting in an area with proper sunlight and well-drained soil.

Then, dig your hole two times the width and depth of the root system, position the tree into the hole and hold it straight. Begin back filling the hole with soil and be sure to completely cover your roots with soil, tamping down so that there are no air pockets underground. Water the planting site to settle the soil and then mulch to retain soil moisture. Mulching also helps to keep an competing growth from invading the planting area.

2. Watering: Hybrid Poplars should be planted in moist soil and be irrigated properly, especially in the first year of planting. Sites that maintain good moisture throughout the year are fine to minimize the need for further irrigation beyond year one. They can handle short-term flooding if the water keeps moving. For ample and continued growth, soil moisture should be monitored.

3. Fertilizing: In fertile soils, including some old pastures, the nitrogen released from organic matter within the soil can be sufficient to carry the trees for several years without the need for added fertilizer. However, a rate of 50 to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year is the general rate applied if needed.

4. Pruning: Prune the trees during the dormant season, in winter. Look for diseased, dead, or damaged limbs as the tree matures. Make a small cut into them with the pruning shears, and if there is no green flesh inside, remove them. Cut at the point where they meet healthy limbs.

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Tulip poplar trees can be recognized by their distinctive leaf shape.

(George Weigel)

Q: I was thinking of getting a tulip poplar tree for my large backyard. But I don’t see them being sold in garden centers. What do you think of them?

A: Tulip poplars have a few good qualities, but they’ve also got enough down sides that they’re not one of my favorite choices as a landscape tree.

On the plus side, tulip poplars (also called tulip trees) are glorious in bloom, they’re a native species attractive to bees, and they make a good timber tree.

On the down side, they get pretty big pretty fast, and so are too big for an average yard. Tulip poplars can zoom up to 20 feet tall and almost as wide in less than 10 years, ultimately ending up around 70-80 feet tall and 50 feet wide.

A bigger issue in my mind is that the fast growth equates to weak wood, which means they tend to snap off branches quicker in storms than many other tree species.

They’re also fairly prone to aphids, which don’t kill the trees but throw off misty liquid waste (sometimes called “aphid rain”) that’s pretty annoying if you’re trying to walk or sit underneath.

On a practical note, I’ve heard people who have them often complain about the “messiness” from the falling big petals after bloom and again when the many big leaves drop in fall. The quantity of falling leaves also increases as the tree grows.

Tulip poplar roots are big as well, which makes growing lawn or other plants near them somewhat challenging.

In my mind, tulip poplars are nice to look at in the woods and other large, native settings, but unless you’ve got a large yard and are OK with the roots, dropping petals/leaves and possibility of aphids and limb-dropping in ice storms, there are many other better large-tree landscape choices.

A few bigger shade trees that I like are blackgum, red maple, Freeman maple, katsura and red and white oaks. I’ve got details and photos of most of them on my Plant Profiles page.


Tree & Plant Care

Tuliptree prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils. Tolerant of more alkaline soil.
As with all members of the Magnolia family, tulip-tree’s fleshy root system prefers being transplanted in early spring, rather than autumn.
A consistent supply of moisture is necessary; tree will suffer from leaf yellowing when planted in a dry site.

Disease, pests, and problems

Aphids, scales, mildew, canker, and verticillium wilt are possible problems.
Fast growth rate causes the tree to be somewhat weak wooded.
Tuliptree is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5
Native throughout most of eastern United States.

Bark color and texture

Mature trees have a gray-brown trunk with deeply furrowed fissures.
Young trees have smooth, gray bark with white shallow fissures.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Alternate, simple, 3 to 8 inch long with a unique 4-lobed, flat-topped leaf.
Leaves are glossy green above with a pale green underside, changing to golden yellow in the fall.
Distinct, 1/2 inch long reddish-brown buds are said to resemble a duck’s bill.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Attractive, 2 inch tall, tulip-like flowers are yellow-green, with an orange band at the base of each petal. Often obscured by leaves at the tips of branches.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A 2 inch long, cone-shaped, aggregate of samaras (winged seeds). The seeds sit upright in pyramidal clusters, turning brown in October and persisting through winter.

Cultivars and their differences

These cultivars may be difficult to find.

Emerald City® tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘JFS-Oz’): Darker green foliage than the species; turns a clear yellow in fall. Upright, oval from growing 55 feet high and 25 feet wide.

Little Volunteer tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Little Volunteer’): A dwarf cultivar, growing 30 to 35 feet high (about 1/3 the size of the species) and 18 to 20 feet wide. The leaves are also smaller than those of the species.

Upright tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Arnold’ or ‘Fastigiatum’): A narrow form with upright branching; grows 50 feet high and 15 feet wide.

Poplar Tree Identification

The largest and most valuable hardwood tree in the United States is the ‘poplar tree’. The poplar family includes various types. To know more about poplar tree identification, keep reading.

A poplar tree symbolizes great strength, endurance and conquest. The poplar trees are of the populus genus and belong to the salicaceae family. The genus includes the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), aspen or the white poplar (Populus alba), the gray poplar (Populus canescens), the black poplar (Populus nigra), and the cottonwood (Populus deltoides). Many a time, people misidentify the yellow poplar tree (tulip poplar tree) as the white poplar tree, but actually the yellow poplar does not really belong to the poplar family.

The tulip poplar belongs to the magnolia family and is one of the most stately trees found in the U.S. The yellow poplar is the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. With the large number of members in the poplar family, it’s difficult to identify the correct tree. The leaves of each tree can help you with correct poplar tree identification. Here’s some more on that aspect.

Poplar Tree Identification by Leaf

The Balsam Poplar Leaf (Populus Balsamifera)

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The leaves of this tree are egg-shaped and thick. They are dark green above and pale green beneath. The tip of the leaf is pointed and edges are finely toothed. There is a whitish waxy coating on the underside of the leaf. These trees are also identified by the pleasant balsam scent of the opening buds. The unique scent is also how the tree derives its name the balsam poplar tree. These trees need a lot of sunlight, to be able to retain the considerable amount of moisture, but they can tolerate very cold climatic conditions as well. The balsam poplar is a native of the eastern and northern areas of the United States.

The White Poplar Leaf (Populus Alba)

This tree is also called the Silver poplar, Silver-leaf poplar and Abele. The leaves of this tree are oval to five-lobed in shape and wavy at the edges. They have a shiny dark green color on their upper side and a dense white color below. This white coating stays until autumn, when the tree sheds its leaves, hence the name white poplar tree. The trunk of the white poplar tree has grayish-white diamond-shaped marks on a young tree, which turn black as the tree grows old. These are some of the distinguishing features of the white poplar tree. The white poplar is a native of Spain and Morocco.

The Gray Poplar Leaf (Populus Canescens)

The leaves of this tree are roundish triangular-shaped with a point at the apex and have woolly grayish undersides. That’s how the tree gets its name the gray poplar tree. The margins of the leaves of this poplar tree are coarse and irregularly toothed. It is one of the fastest growing trees marked with a lot of vigor, reaching a height of 40 meters, and the truck of the tree measuring 1.5 meters. It is native to the Europe and not the US, but has been introduced and naturalized everywhere now.

The Black Poplar Leaf (Populus Nigra)

This tree has diamond-shaped or triangular-shaped leaves. They are green on both sides and coarse at the edges. The leaf veins and shoots are finely covered with soft hair. The bark of the tree is grayish brown which appears blackish, and so the name the black poplar tree. This tree is native to Europe. They have clusters of erect branches which often appear as a single column, and look absolutely beautiful.

The Cottonwood Leaf (Populus Deltoides)

This is one of the largest North American hardwood trees. They have deltoid (triangular) broad base leaves. The edges are coarse and curved, the petiole is flat and the apex is pointed. These leaves are dark green in summer and turn yellow in the fall. The stem of the leaf is flat and so, even the slightest breeze can cause its foliage to rustle. This is one of the major characteristics of this cottonwood tree. They are the tallest broad-leaf trees that grow over 100 feet, but have short life spans like all poplars.

• The Balmville Tree is the oldest cottonwood in the United States.

The Yellow Poplar Leaf (Liriodendron)

To start with, the yellow poplar does not belong to the poplar family, nor does it share any relation with the tulip flower. It is so named due its greenish-yellow hardwood and attractive tulip-like flowers. The yellow poplar is also known as the tulip tree, tulip poplar tree or yellow poplar tree. The leaves of this tree are easily recognizable as they have four large lobes often flattened into a square at the end, the apex cut across at shoal angle and have primary prominent veins. The leaves have a smooth and shiny bright green coating, but in autumn, the tree wears a bright yellow color and stands out among the green-colored leaves of the other trees, hence, making it easy to identify the tree. The other distinguishing factor being the tulip shaped flowers; yellowish-green in color with orange bands near the base. This tree is one of the largest native trees found in the United States.

Here are some more interesting facts about the poplar tree, allow me to share them with you. Poplar trees are a fast growing but relatively short-lived species. You will find them stretching all over North America through Eurasia and northern Africa. A few species extend beyond the Arctic circle as well. The slightest breeze can cause the leaves of the poplar tree to tremble. They are strong, narrow and tall, so they look attractive when planted along the country driveways. Populus wood is lighter and porous, hence, it is widely used for making paper. Since, these trees are fast-growing and tall, they are often used as residential shade trees, along driveways and as windbreakers around commercial orchards. Recently, poplar wood is widely used in making musical instruments, like the body of guitars, violas and drums.

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A truly valuable tree indeed. The above factors will make poplar tree identification easy, the next time you see one. Also you will not get confused about the white poplar tree and yellow poplar tree being the same. I end this article with a beautiful quote about trees;

You will find something far greater in woods than you will in books. Stones and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters. – St. Bernard

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