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. 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.
The poplar tree has an interesting history as well. Back in the day, the Romans and the Greeks used poplar wood to make shields, but for a time, these trees were “out of fashion.” The wood of the tree was considered as poor quality for the longest time, but now it is being used for different projects. Since this tree can grow quite quickly, it is being planted in bulks so they can be cut down and used for their wood.
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- Early renaissance art was painted on poplar wood, including the Mona Lisa portrait.
- Harps and violas are stringed instruments that have poplar wood on them as their main structural component.
- Although, burning wood for energy production is being compelled around the world, poplar wood is being used in the U.K. for this purpose.
Types of Poplar Wood
White Poplar (Populus alba)
The white poplar trees grows up to 20 meters and possesses bark that is light grey (sometimes mistaken as white) accompanied by black diamond like pores called lenticels. 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 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 molding, 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.
Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra)
Another popular poplar tree would be 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.
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoids)
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.
Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)
The balsam poplar tree grows on the flood plains of Southern United States. It grows 80 to 100 feet in height. The wood of this tree is most commonly used for its wood pulp that is then used for construction, wood making, and manufacturing.
The 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 it creates fuzzy flakes. Balsam poplar along with a few other poplar species is used to manufacture plywood, particleboard, veneer and waferboard.
Yellow Poplar or Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera)
Yellow poplar also referred to as Tulip poplar 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.
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.
Best Place to Grow Poplar Trees
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.
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.