Populus alba
Common Name: white poplar
Type: Tree
Family: Salicaceae
Native Range: Europe, central Asia
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 50.00 to 75.00 feet
Spread: 50.00 to 75.00 feet
Bloom Time: April
Bloom Description: Red (male) and green (female)
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Colorful

Culture

Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Prefers consistently moist soils, but tolerates some drought. Tolerates a wide range of soils. Suckers to form colonies. Tolerant of many urban pollutants.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Populus alba, commonly called white popular, is primarily grown for the silvery-green hues of its foliage, buds, young twigs and young bark. Native to Europe and Asia, it was first introduced into North America in the mid-1700s. It has been widely planted throughout the U.S., and has escaped cultivation and naturalized in many areas, particularly in the East. It is distinguished from other poplars by its 3-5 lobed silvery leaves that are reminiscent of some maples. It is a fast-growing deciduous tree that typically grows 50-75’ (less frequently to 100’) tall with an irregular to broad-rounded crown. Trunk diameters may reach 2-3’. It is often seen growing as a multi-trunked tree, however. Alternate, ovate to rounded, 3-5 lobed leaves (to 5” long) are blue green above and woolly white beneath with coarsely-toothed to wavy margins. As with aspens, the leaves of white poplars tremble in the slightest breeze, showcasing the attractive foliage. Fall color is undistinguished. Bark on young trees is smooth and greenish-gray, but matures to dark gray-black with ridges and furrows. White poplars are dioecious, with tiny reddish male and greenish female flowers appearing in separate catkins on separate male and female trees in spring (April) before the foliage emerges. Flowering catkins are not showy. Flowers in female catkins give way to small dehiscent capsules that typically ripen and split open in late May, distributing abundant cottony-tufted seeds.

Genus name comes from the Latin name.

Specific epithet means white.

Problems

Susceptible to a wide range of diseases including dieback, cankers, leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew. Insect visitors include borers, aphids, caterpillars and scale. Considered an invasive alien in some areas because its abundant self-seeding and rapid growth rate which have enabled it to naturalize and overwhelm some native species.

Garden Uses

Foliage of healthy trees has very good ornamental interest. Considered an inappropriate selection for streets because shallow roots may buckle sidewalks and damage sewers. Suckering habit and messy tendencies (twigs, leaves, cottony seeds) also raise questions as to appropriateness for lawns. Fast growth rate makes this an interesting selection as a windbreak or screen for property lines. Good for sunny woodland areas where it can naturalize. All-male (seedless) and columnar/conical cultivars are available in commerce.