White Poplar – Populus alba

Tree of the Week

9th June 2020 | Info

Common name: White Poplar 

Scientific name: Populus alba 

Introduction: The White Poplar (Populus alba) is a deciduous, broadleaf tree that is native to central and southern Europe, Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula. They can often be found near coastal areas and are known for their distinct white appearance. 


Leaves: The leaves of a White Poplar are typically dark green with a greyish tint and have a white, woolly coating on their underside.  They usually have five lobes and are distinctly flat with irregularly teethed edges. 

Buds: Buds of a White Popular are arranged spirally and are pressed tightly into the twigs of the tree. 

Bark: The Bark of a White Poplar is predominantly pale-brown-grey to white in colour and is often covered in black, diamond-like lenticels. The bark of their twigs, however, is white and hairy for their first two years of the trees lifecycle. As the tree matures, you will then find that the twigs then become more knobbly. 

white poplar bark

[Close-up of the bark of a White Poplar]

Form: Large trees with vigorous root systems, averagely reaching heights of 20m.  


White Poplar trees are dioecious. Their female catkins are yellow-green in colour and get pollinated by the wind. Once fertilised, they then develop into fluffy seeds that eventually fall in late summer and disperse naturally. Their male catkins are red.  

white poplar catkins

[Fertilised female White Poplar catkins]

Growth Habit

White Poplars are known for their rapid growth as a specimen tree.  

Ecological Importance

White Poplar trees have great ecological importance, helping to provide a food source for a variety of wildlife. Their leaves, for example, provide food for a variety of moth caterpillar species, and their catkins offer an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects.  

Properties of White Poplar Wood and its Uses

The wood of a White Poplar is soft, light and not very durable, making it unsuitable for use as heavy-duty construction material   

In the past, however, due to its smooth qualities, Italian painters including the likes of Leonardo de Vinci, would often use panels of White Popular wood as a canvas.

Styling of White Poplar/Where to Find Them

In the UK, White Poplar have been naturalised and typically grow in damp conditions, predominantly near the coast or by bodies of water. They are often planted as wind-breaking trees near coastal areas as they are tolerant to costal-winds. They are also a popular choice of specimen tree due to their highly ornamental and attractive appearance.  

Associated Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately, the White Poplar can be susceptible to a variety of fungal diseases including Poplar bacterial canker, leaf rusts and the Poplar scab. The leaves can also be attractive to leaf beetles, sawflies and caterpillars who will proceed to feed on them.  

Interesting Facts

Historically, the White Polar was used in Medicine – particularly, its bark – due to possessing antiseptic properties.  


Pruning and Pruning Qualities: If left alone, White Poplar trees can spread and become a nuisance. So, it is ideal that you regularly conduct light pruning to keep the tree healthy and to help prevent pests and diseases. 

You should perform light pruning in late summer as to avoid the tree bleeding from cuts which helps to reduce the risk once again of pests and diseases being attracted.  

Like most trees, you should also remove any dead or diseased branches from the tree’s canopy. However, unless urgent, you should wait to remove these until late winter/early spring.  

White Poplars are also prone to suckers which ideally should be pruned out and removed between autumn and winter.*

Growth Rate after Pruning: Can help to maintain growth and control spread. 

*Knowing what our trees need or require can be difficult, which is why we always encourage you to consult your local tree surgeon who will be able to answer any questions or concerns that you may have. You can find your local tree surgeon here. 

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