What Are the Different Types of Poplar Trees?

Poplar trees are all members of the genus Populus, a term that means "many of" in Latin. Several dozen species of poplar are grouped under the Populus umbrella. Although each species has its own characteristics, in general these trees grow fast and propagate easily, but have powerful, suckering roots that can turn a row of poplars into a gardener's nightmare.

Poplar Lane
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Poplars flush yellow in autumn.

White Poplars and Carolina Poplars

It's the ultimate survivor tree -- and very difficult to dislodge once established. Large, silver leaves and a pale green trunk identify white poplars (Populus alba), a tough-as-nails garden tree that thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Not for small yards, the while poplar grows to 80 feet tall and wide, with a trunk diameter of up to a yard. It is an extremely tolerant, easy-care tree but its extensive, powerful roots can lift sidewalks, block drains and send up enough suckers to drive you crazy. It's considered invasive in some states. The Carolina poplar (Populus x canadensis) is a hybrid with the same qualities, both good -- tolerance and vigor -- and bad -- invasive roots). It thrives in USDA zones 5 through 9.

Lombardy or Tower Poplar

If you want tall, try the Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra "Italica"), but do so at your own risk. It's a classic, columnar ornamental, rising to 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide in USDA zones 4 through 9, but its roots are problematic, sending up more suckers than you may want to deal with. It's also prone to disease. Experts at North Dakota Extension prefer the tower poplar (Populus x canescens "Tower") for planting in the same zones because it's more disease tolerant. You'd likely get the same sucker problem, however.

Balsam Poplar

No, it isn't a typo -- the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) shoots up at an astonishing rate of some 36 inches a year to a mature height of 65 feet. It develops an attractive, oval crown with fragrant leaves, but plagues you with myriad suckers. These trees thrive in USDA zones 5 through 9 and live over 150 years, so think before you plant.

Sucker-Free Poplars

Avoid all the suckering headaches if you live in USDA zones 4 through 7 by planting the Japanese poplar (Populus maximowiczii). It's a tall, elegant poplar, with the same mature height and spread as the Lombardy, but it doesn't sprout or sucker. You still don't want to place its roots anywhere near your house, however. You might also try the pyramidal Simon poplar (Populus simonii "Fastigiata") that grows to 50 feet in USDA zones 2 through 6 and does not sucker.