Known as one of the most popular trees grown in the United States and Canada, the poplar tree has become a favorite for landscaping. Belonging to the genus populus, this tree has 30 unique species, each with their own distinct features.
Today we’re going to cover all of the aspects of poplar wood and the poplar tree. Where does it grow? What does it look like? What are the best applications for poplar wood? Keep reading to discover is poplar wood will be the perfect wood type for your next woodworking project.
Why Poplar Wood?
There are various reasons as to why these trees are planted, the biggest one being their rapid growth. A poplar tree grows tall in lesser time and the different species of this tree range from 50 to 160 feet tall. Another reason poplar wood is planted is that it is used to make wood pulp (used in construction and manufacturing) and to create plywood and firewood.
Apart from its practical uses, the poplar tree is loved around the world for the natural beauty it provides. Poplar is a species that is fastigiated, which adds the aesthetic appeal required in gardens of North America.
The feature this tree possesses has made it a necessity for casual and formal garden settings. The fact that these trees are easy to take care of has made them another reason why they are popular. All gardeners have to do is plant them and go. The best part is that daily maintenance and pruning are not a “must do” for this tree.
However, when planting a small, younger poplar, make sure it is not near infrastructure, buildings, or foundations. The reason for this is that these trees grow rapidly above and under the ground. The roots of this tree are known to be destructive and invasive if it is planted too close to these materials.
An ideal option for nature-loving homeowners would be to plant this gorgeous tree at a safe distance from their house so they can watch it flourish. Moreover, the wood can be used as firewood for fireplaces or BBQ grills.
A Little History..
The poplar tree has an interesting history as well. Back in the day, the Romans and the Greeks used poplar wood to make their battle shields!
Additionally, Early Renaissance art pieces were painted on boards of plywood. Ever heard of the Mona Lisa? Well, that portrait was painted on poplar. That just goes to show that poplar wood really can stand the test of time.
Finally, for centuries, high quality woodwind and wood instruments have been created using poplar wood. Instruments like the harp and the viola historically had poplar as their main structural material.
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What do Poplar Trees Look Like?
Here at homestratosphere, we believe that it is as equally important to be able to identify a tree by both its wood appearance and by the tree itself. Read on to buff up your tree identification knowledge!
Poplar trees have varying growth habits, and depending on the species and the growing location, trees can grow anywhere from 49 feet to a baffling 164 feet tall. These trees also grow very quickly, which is a large part of their commercial hardwood lumber value.
Another impressive aspect of the poplar tree is its root system. These trees are able to be so tough and resilient because of this aspect. Poplar tree root systems are wide spreading and vigorous growers. They can sometimes stretch out a wild 130 feet away from the actual trunk of the tree!
Though this is very good for the overall resilience of the plant, a wide spreading root system is not so great when it comes to underground infrastructure. Take care not to plant a poplar too close to your house or any vital piping, as they can greatly damage them.
Poplars are absolute masters as “suckering”. They can even take root from cut off branches that are beginning to decay. This is important to keep in mind when pruning. Make sure to clean up your debris!
One of the easier ways to identify a poplar tree is by its bark. The bark on a young tree will be a white/green color and will be very smooth, or with conspicuous lenticels. The bark of an older tree can sometimes darken into a darker green color. The overall texture will remain smooth on certain species, whereas others can develop deep fissures.
Another easy way to identify a poplar tree is by its leaves! Leaves are spirally arranged along branches, and they are attached to the stems by flattened petioles. This type of petiole causes leaves to wobble around in a light breeze, creating a charming rustling effect.
Each individual leaf will vary from species to species. Some trees will grow triangular leaves, whereas others will be more circular. Some species will have lobed leaves, whereas others with have serrated margins.
The poplar is a deciduous tree species. This means that the leaves will change color (usually yellow) in the fall before they fall away. The tree will go dormant during the cold winter months, and new spring foliage will emerge once the cold season is over.
5 Types of Poplar Wood
Poplar is a high quality hard wood. It is known for having a straight grain, a uniform texture, and medium density, meaning that it is easy to work with. Though it is considered as a hardwood, it is as easy to work with (either by woodworker or machine) as a softwood.
The heartwood of poplar lumber is usually a light cream or ivory tone that has accents of green and brown, whereas the sapwood is more of a yellowish brown color. Sapwood is not clearly demarcated from the heartwood.
Poplar wood is a utility wood rather than an aesthetically appealing woody type. Though it can be used to create a hardy countertop or ceiling moulding, it is more commonly used in rough woodworking projects.
Poplar wood is often used to make pallets, crates, upholstered furniture frames, and it is a common wood type in millwork, pulpwood, and plywood manufacturing.
What is the Janka Scale?
When it comes to choosing a wood type, it is important to know if it will be tough enough for your woodworking project. We can easily learn this by looking up the results the wood received from the Janka test.
The Janka test is a test applied to different wood types to determine its ability to withstand damage from denting and regular wear and tear. They do this by forcing a small steel ball into the wood, and seeing how much force that takes.
The result received on the Janka scale will determine how easy or how difficult it will be to saw, mill, and nail a wood type. It determines the overall workability of a type of wood!
1. The White Poplar Tree
Scientific Name: Populus Alba
Growing Range: Morocco, Portugal, Europe, Asia, North America
Height: 49-98 ft
Janka Hardness: 410 lbf
Also known as the silver poplar or silverleaf poplar, the white poplar tree is known as the “whitest” tree in a landscape and it looks like it is covered in snow all the time. The twigs of this tree are also white. The younger twigs are coated in a lot of white hair that stays till the tree is two years old.
A great feature about this wood is that it can be stained or painted in a way where it matches the appearance of any popular wood, but for a lesser amount of money. For example, kitchen cabinets are made with this wood because what homeowners tend to do is get their white poplar wood stained in a way where it looks like expensive red oak or cherry wood.
Because the wood has a good hardness, it can be used to make cabinets, but it also absorbs stains beautifully, which allows it to look like natural wood. This wood’s greatest feature is that it is pocket-friendly while it successfully mimics the qualities of any other wood.
Unlike the other hardwoods available to create fine furniture, poplar is relatively softer. But, this wood is quite often used for painted furniture. Since poplar is soft, the stains and paint applied to the wood can cause the wood to dent, get scratched and damaged easily. However, if you are applying a high quality, oil based paint; you can prevent the wood from getting dents and scratches on it.
Keep in mind, poplar is not the best option for baseboards or floor moulding, but it can be used as a great alternative for ceiling molding or trimming that is not taken care of. The low price point and the ability to adapt to various types of paints and stains made it food to reach molding and trimming.
2. The Black Poplar Tree
Scientific Name: Populus Nigra
Growing Range: Europe, Asia, Africa
Height: 60-98 ft
Janka Hardness: 460 lbf
Another popular poplar tree would be the black poplar, otherwise known as the Lombardy poplar tree. This tree has a spread of 10 to 15 feet and has branches that bend upwards. The leaves on this tree look like a simple triangles that are each 2 to 4 inches big with a shiny dark green appearance, while the other side is paler. The bark of this tree is smooth. At a young age, the color of the bark is gray-green, but as it grows, it becomes a darker shade of grey or black.
Since the wood of this tree is –somewhat- light and soft, it is easy to cut through it with a chain saw as compared to cutting through hardwood like maple, oak or cherry. The sharp edged teeth of the chain saw can easily work their way through large parts of the poplar tree trunk, while achieving its purpose of getting the wood. Since it is quite easy to cut into, it becomes easy to get your hands on poplar wood in a shorter amount of time.
One of the most popular uses of Lombardy poplar wood is for the firewood it creates. As the temperatures begin to drop, a Lombardy poplar tree can provide you with a sufficient amount of wood that can be used firewood. The wood is also known to have low density, making it the perfect candidate for firewood. You have the choice to mix Lombardy poplar wood with other hardwoods to make a good fire going. But, it can be used on its own as well.
3. The Eastern Cottonwood Tree
Scientific Name: Populus Deltoides
Growing Range: North America
Height: 65-195 ft
Janka Hardness: 430 lbf
Eastern Cottonwood is another tree that is a member of the poplar family and it originates from North America. It grows really fast — at least 6 feet in one year! The Eastern cottonwood tree has the ability to grow 100 to 190 feet in height and 6 feet in width.
It commonly grows near lakes and rivers or in floodplains and marshes. The tree prefers to grow in sandy soiled or moist areas because it gets the required sunlight there. The thick bark of the tree has the ability to protect the inner, fragile wood from any damages. The wood of this tree is yellow-green when the tree is young, but as it grows older, it becomes brown-grey.
Most of the times, eastern cottonwood is used for ornamental purposes such as a shade tree, windbreak, or as a food source for animals or for firewood. Eastern cottonwood trees were used by North Americans to build canoes while the early European settlers used it to construct barns and houses.
Eastern cottonwood bark is a food source of horses. The inner bark and sweet sprouts can be consumed by humans. The wood of this magnificent tree can be used for lightweight furniture, paper, boxes, and pallets. Moreover, the fragrant oils derived from the eastern cottonwood tree are used in the cosmetic industry. They are added to massage oils, lip balms, and lip sticks.
4. The Balsam Poplar Tree
Scientific Name: Populus Balsamifera
Growing Range: North America
Height: 80-100 ft
Janka Hardness: 300 lbf
Otherwise known as the bamtree, eastern balsam poplar, hackmatack, or tacamahac, the balsam poplar tree grows on the flood plains of Southern United States. The wood of this tree is most commonly used for its wood pulp that is then used for construction, wood making, and manufacturing.
The poplar lumber produced by this tree is used for pallets, crates, furniture parts, and light-frame construction. The balsam poplar wood is used as a raw material as well in the manufacturing of oriented strand board and waferboard.
But, it is not as strong as aspen because it takes longer to dry, and once it is dry, the wood planks have fuzzy surfaces (however, this can somewhat be fixed with wood conditioner). Balsam poplar along with a few other poplar species is used to manufacture plywood, particleboard, veneer and wafer board.
5. The Yellow Poplar Tree
Scientific Name: Liriodendron Tulipifera
Growing Range: North America
Height: 80-160 ft
Janka Hardness: 540 lbf
Though the yellow poplar is not actually a member of the populus genus, it is still marketed as being poplar wood. It is very commercially significant in the lumber industry, and we thought it necessary to include in this list!
The yellow poplar, also referred to as the tulip tree, is the biggest hardwood tree in the eastern North American forests. It can reach a height of 160 feet and a width of 10 feet.
It is known to produce lumber that is clear, wide, and straight. The tree is a home to beautiful yellow flowers that are budded on it. Since this species is considered abundant, it is used extensively to create wooden products.
Yellow poplar is a type of hardwood and is becoming popular. Similar to the expensive hardwoods being used all around the world, the hardwood from the yellow poplar tree can be used as a siding at homes because it has the ability to hold up all the elements really well. Although, it holds up just as well and long as other expensive woods like cedar and oak, this wood is an affordable option.
Nowadays, more and more people are taking yellow poplar wood as a budget-friendly option instead of purchasing the other types of lumber for outdoor decks. Since the yellow poplar tree grows straight, it is a great choice for rails and deck posts that need to be as straight as can be.
Growing your Own Poplar Tree
If you’re feeling curious about growing your own poplar tree, keep on reading! There’s nothing better than the labor of love involved with growing your own tree, and then later using it as firewood, furniture wood, or however else you’d like to use it.
Picking a Spot
Yes, there is a possibility for you to grow a poplar tree in your garden. However, what you should know first is that you have the chance to choose from over 30 species. While some of the species grow only 50 feet, others can grow up to 180. When you are planting a poplar tree, determine what species you need.
Poplar trees grow the best in the Southeastern United States because they require a lot of watering. Luckily, you do not have to live in that region to grow a poplar; all you will have to do is plant your poplar in a location where it will receive the right amount of water. The best option would be at the bottom of a valley or hill.
The two essential factors for a poplar tree would be the space and sunlight. Since these trees grow rapidly, they will not do well in smaller spaces where there is less sunlight. Therefore, you need to make sure you are growing your poplar in a place where it gets the right amount of sunlight and enough space.
Tips on Poplar Tree Care
Here a few quick tips about poplar trees that you should know about!
- Sunlight– Poplar trees demand sunlight especially because it promises them to grow and flourish.
- Soil– Even though they can fully adapt to any kind of soil, like most trees, they have a preference. Poplar trees prefer being grown on well-drained moist soil that has a slight acidity.
- Water– Apart from being adaptable, this tree species does not require too much watering. They grow the best along water rich regions or riverbeds that ensure it with the proper amount of water they need. This also restricts the roots from growing too much. Poplar trees tend to grow excessively in search of moisture.
- Pruning– With this tree, all you have to do is minor pruning every year. Take away dead and diseased wood to maintain the tree’s health.
Being an affordable hardwood option, the –fairly- soft wood is easy and fun to work with. Poplar wood is commonly white with brown and green streaks in the heartwood. Unfortunately, poplar wood is not beautiful to look at, which is why it is not commonly used for fine furniture but is it painted. It is the ideal option for drawers because it is inexpensive and stable.
Is yellow pine wood harder than yellow poplar wood?
Yellow pine wood has an average Janka hardness of 690 lbf, whereas yellow poplar wood has an average Janka hardness of around 540. This means that yellow pine is harder than yellow poplar, but the former is harder to work with than the latter.
Where is there a poplar plantation?
There are many poplar plantation locations in North Carolina where these trees are still being grown, farmed, and harvested on a large scale.
Is poplar wood good for furniture?
Poplar wood is much more of a utility wood than anything else. Though it can be used to make upholstered furniture frames, it is never really the centrepoint of a piece of furniture. It is not as aesthetically as other wood types, and is more of a foundational material.
Does poplar wood make good firewood?
Poplar makes for a great fuelwood type. It is dense but not too dense, has a pleasant scent, and tends to burn rather evenly at a high temperature.
Can I stain poplar wood?
Because of its porous nature and even grain, poplar wood tends to take to stain, glue, and paint rather well.
Can poplar wood be used for flooring?
Because poplar wood has a lower rating on the Janka scale, this means that it would dent, scratch, and wear rather easily. This means it would be rather silly to use poplar wood for wood flooring.
How strong is poplar wood?
Poplar wood has medium density and a Janka hardness of around 550. Though it is a hard wood, it is as workable as a softwood would be.
Can poplar wood be used for cutting boards?
Even though poplar is a hardwood, it is considered as being too soft to be used as a cutting board material. The board itself would chip and dent and break away if it was regularly exposed to knife work.
Will poplar wood rot?
As long as poplar wood is kept dry, the risk or rot is much lower. However, if it is being used for exterior purposes and is regularly getting wet, it will absolutely rot as it does not have durable heartwood.
What does poplar wood smell like?
Poplar wood is knowing for having a unique smell when it is cut. It is said to be both bitter and sweet at the same time.