The black poplar is a large, elegant, fast growing deciduous (shreds it leaves annually) broad-leaved tree, reaching heights of thirty metres and can live for up to two hundred years.
This tree was once a staple of Britain’s landscape but these days, the trees are rare, growing in isolation, in boggy conditions, near ditches and floodplains. Only around 7,000 wild black poplars now grow in the UK and of these, only six hundred are female trees. To reproduce, male and female black poplars need to be close to each other.
Black poplars receive the same protection as all other wild plants in the UK through the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. This means, they may not be uprooted without the permission of the landowner. Tree Preservation Orders and the 1967 Forestry Act may prevent the felling of trees.
The bark is dark brown but often appears black, the twigs are knobbly, especially on older trees.
The leaves which have a faint scent of balsam are shiny, green and heart-shaped, with long tips. Young leaves are covered in fine, tiny hairs, which they shed by autumn.
The black poplar is dioecious, which means the male and female flowers are found on separate trees. Flowers are catkins (male catkins are red and female catkins are yellow green) and are pollinated by the wind. Once fertilised, female catkins develop into fluffy cotton-like seeds, which fall in late summer.
It is food plant for the caterpillars of a variety of moths, with the catkins providing an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds.
The wood is fine textured, soft and almost white in colour - naturally springy and resistant to shock. Traditional uses included cart wheels and wagon bottoms. It has natural fire resistance, so was used for floorboards, especially in the days of paraffin lamps. Other uses include, clothes pegs and woven fruit baskets.
Photo credit: Martin Page
Read more here: Black poplar | The Wildlife Trusts