Latin: Populus alba
Common names: White Poplar, Silver poplar
Habit: Beautiful tree by many standards, but a train wreck when planted in a civilized garden. It suckers from its roots and can colonize large areas using the same reproductive strategy as its relative, the aspen. It grows 30 to 50 feet tall with the main trunk sometimes attaining a girth of 12 to 18 inches. Trees have a mostly upright habit, with trunks white while young (the source of the white poplar name) and resembling a non-peeling white-barked birch. As the trunks reach six inches in diameter, diamond shaped lenticels begin to populate the trunk, and over time the bole becomes gray in color.
The most beautiful feature is the silvery tomentosum on the underside of the leaf. In even a slight breeze, the leaves tremble and quake - first exposing the dark green upper surface and then flashing the silvery underside. The leaves are 3 to 4 inches long, with three to five rounded lobes. Trees have no significant fall color. The flowers are produced in catkins and have no ornamental significance.
Culture: Poplars belong to the willow family, so they share a fondness for moist locations and a well-deserved reputation for fast growth, weak wood and short lives. Silver poplar is native to Southern Europe and Central Asia, where it grows along stream banks, not on mountain slopes like its close relatives, the aspens. By the time the original tree has attained even modest size, it usually has thrown up an ever-expanding thicket of slender suckers from the original tree roots. In lawn situations, round-crowned silver poplars will occasionally be seen without the surrounding coppice of suckers, but they are only kept at bay by the action of the mower. It is hardy in zones 3 through 9.
Notes: Silver-leafed poplar is one of the three dozen or so species of poplars found in the northern hemisphere.