Often planted as a bordering tree the white poplar especially grows spontaneously in the Rhone Valley, as well as further north and up to the Rhine Valley. Its foliage, which shimmers in the slightest breeze, has a very decorative aspect.
This species (Populus alba) belongs to the Salicaceae family. In some regions, it is commonly called the "abele", "silverleaf poplar" or "silver poplar".
Young leaves of a white poplar. © Daniel Fuchs, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
The white poplar is a tree that can grow to heights of 20 to 30 metres. Its lifespan can exceed 300 years. Its trunk is straight, sometimes ribbed and greenish-white, with a broad crown and large, staggered white branches. Its young bark is greyish with large rhombic lenticels, and becomes thick, cracked and blackish towards the base.
White poplar catkins. © Robe Hille, public domain
Its deciduous leaves are oval-shaped, sinuous or lobed, dentate, white on top and dark green on the underside. The tree flowers in March-April, producing dense, hanging catkins. Male catkins are hairy, grey and red and female catkins are longer, thin, smooth and pale green. Its fruit are fuzzy seed capsules.
This tree comes from Central and Southern Europe, as well as parts of Asia.
The white poplar resists drought and winds. It adapts to all types of soil and resists cold up to -30°C. It prefers to grow in full light.
The wood of this tree is used in modern joinery, to produce boxes and paper pulp. It is a mediocre fuel that provides little heat during combustion and produces poor quality charcoal. In popular medicine, its leaves and bark were used in the past to reduce fever.
Author: Michel Caron