Populus alba, or white poplar, is a large, very fast-growing deciduous tree. The young twigs and leaves are all covered in downy white hair, which can give it the impression that the tree is covered in snow. The rounded leaves are dark green on top and white and hairy underneath. They look particularly striking on a breezy day against a blue sky.
In spring, catkins appear – red on male trees, green on female trees. When they have been pollinated by wind, female catkins develop into fluffy, white seeds. The leaves turn golden yellow in autumn.
While not a native tree, Populus alba is naturalised all over the UK and is often found growing near water, as it needs moist soil. It’s tolerant of a wide range of soils and sites, including salty winds, and is often grown as a windbreak tree, especially on coastal sites.
Populus alba is a good tree for wildlife – several moth caterpillars feed on its leaves and the catkins provide early pollen and nectar for bees and other insects. Birds eat the seeds.
Populus alba does not need regular pruning but if you need to do so, prune in late summer to prevent it ‘bleeding’. Remove suckers from the base in autumn or winter.
This is a tree for the boundary of a very large garden or parkland. Do not grow white poplar near a building – its vigorous roots may damage drains and foundations.
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Advice on buying Populus alba
- Make sure you have enough space to grow your poplar – it can reach ultimately reach 20m x 15m. Do not plant it near a building
- You’re likely to find Populus alba at a specialist tree nursery or online. Always buy trees from a reputable supplier that sells British-grown or certified disease-free stock, to guarantee against pests and diseases
- Male trees are more ornamental, as they bear attractive red catkins
- Look out for bare-root trees, on sale in winter – these are much cheaper than pot-grown trees
Where to buy Populus alba
How to grow Populus alba
North facing, south facing, east facing, west facing
- Sun exposure: Dappled shade, full sun, partial shade
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Soil type: Acidic / chalky / alkaline / clay / heavy / moist
Populus alba and wildlife
Populus alba is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds and butterflies/moths. It is a caterpillar food plant, has nectar/pollen rich flowers and has seeds for birds.
Attractive to Bees
Attractive to Beneficial insects
Attractive to Birds
Attractive to Butterflies/Moths
Does not attract Other pollinators
Is Populus alba poisonous?
Populus alba has no toxic effects reported.
No reported toxicity to Birds
No reported toxicity to Cats
No reported toxicity to Dogs
No reported toxicity to Horses
No reported toxicity to Livestock
No reported toxicity to People