Populus nigra 'Italica'
Common Name: black poplar
Type: Tree
Family: Salicaceae
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 40.00 to 50.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Red
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Street Tree
Flower: Showy

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 2-10 where it is best grown in rich, humusy, fertile, consistently moist but well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Generally intolerant of urban pollutants.

'Italica' is a male clone which must be propagated by cuttings.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Populus nigra, commonly called black popular, is a large deciduous tree with a wide rounded crown that typically matures to 60-100’ tall. It is primarily native to boggy lowland areas, river valleys, pond margins, forest margins, fields and roadsides in Europe, northwestern Africa and western Asia. Dark gray bark on mature trees is knotted, deeply fissured, gnarled and burred. Alternate, simple, broadly triangular to diamond-shaped, deep green leaves (to 3” long) turn yellow in fall. Black poplar trees are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees). Catkins appear in late winter to early spring (March-April) before the leaves develop. Drooping male catkins (to 1-2” long) feature apetalous flowers with deep red anthers. More upright female catkins (to 4-5” long) feature apetalous flowers with two green stigmas. Pollinated catkins on female trees bear abundant masses of seeds by late summer, each seed being encased in white cottony hairs (sometimes commonly called seed wool or seed fluff) which facilitate wind-blown distribution of the seeds. To some, the cottony seeds exemplify the beauty of nature, but to others they amount to nothing more than landscape litter.

Some nurseries sell only male trees because many homeowners find the cottony seeds to be a somewhat untidy nuisance. On the other hand, a downside of male trees is that they produce abundant amounts of pollen which can adversely affect some allergy sufferers. Both sexes are guilty of dropping lots of leaves and twigs which require frequent clean-up. Roots may form suckers and can sometimes be invasive. Shallow spreading roots can lift pavements (sidewalks and streets), make lawn mowing difficult, damage septic tanks and drainage systems, and disturb prized garden areas.

Genus name comes from the Latin name.

Specific epithet means black.

‘Italica’, commonly known as Lombardy poplar or Italian poplar, is believed to have originated in Italy (Lombardy region on the banks of the Po River) in the late 1600s as a fastigiate mutation of a male black poplar (P. nigra). It is a narrow, columnar tree with exceedingly upright branching (almost parallel to the trunk), a tapered crown, and a shallow spreading root system. It is a short-lived tree (sometimes to only 20 years) that typically grows to 40-50’ (less frequently to 100’) tall with a spread to only 15’ wide. It was first introduced into North America in 1784. Glabrous, deltoid, finely-serrate leaves (2-4” long) are bright green throughout the growing season, turning yellow in fall. Gray-green bark matures over time to black with furrows.

Problems

Suseptible to a number of pests and diseases. Cankers are significant problems, especially in hot and humid climates. Cytospora canker attacks the upper branches of the tree and trunk and is often fatal. Additional potential disease problems include dieback, leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew. Potential insect problems include aphids, borers, caterpillars and scale. Weak wood is easily damaged by wind. Shallow roots can lift sidewalks, make lawn mowing difficult, and damage drainage systems. Falling debris (leaves and twigs) requires frequent clean-up. Also avoid planting this tree in lawns or gardens. In Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr sums up poplar pest problems by saying "if anyone plants poplars they deserve the disasters which automatically ensue."

Garden Uses

Not considered to be a good landscape tree. Best used for windbreaks or screens or along roads.