Black Poplar - Populus nigra
Family - Salicaceae
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Large tree growing to 30m (98ft), with a trunk up to 2m (6.5ft) in diameter, often growing close to water. Mature trees sometimes lean sideways with lower branches arching downwards, sometimes reaching the ground. Fissured bark that looks black from a distance (giving the tree its name) is a dark grey-brown, sometimes with large, woody bosses or burrs. Pale yellow twigs are sticky towards the tips with a strong turpentine smell, covered in a fine down (absent in most hybrids). Male ♂ trees produce dark red catkins known as "Devils Fingers" in the spring, whilst females ♀ produce lime green coloured catkins. Triangular toothed leaves, longer than wide with the widest part below the middle, lacking the two tiny glands where the leaf joins the stalk which is common in hybrids. Softwood, resistant to abrasion, woolly texture, easily worked but not very good as firewood due to its low flammability. Easily propagated, they thrive in almost any soil. Possibly the most endangered native tree in the UK with a total population of between 2000-3000 trees.
Part of the tree has or is used for medicinal purposes: leaf buds harvested in the spring contain Salicin, a glucoside that decomposes into salicylic acid (Aspirin) in the body and have antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant and stimulating properties. Use to treat bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections, stomach and kidney disorders but should not be taken by people who are sensitive to aspirin. Can be used in hot water as an inhalant to relieve congestion. The bark is an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, again contains salicylates, from which aspirin is derived. It is usually used in the treatment of rheumatism, gout, back pain, urinary complaints, arthritis, digestive and liver disorders, also to reduce fever. Externally, the bark is used to treat chilblains, hemorrhoids, infected wounds and sprains. The bark is harvested from side branches or coppiced trees and dried for later use. An extract of the shoots made by soaking the chopped up shoots in cold water for 24 hours or more can be used as a rooting hormone for all types of cuttings.
A difficult tree to identify properly as the Black Poplar has many different hybrids that have been planted in Britain over the last two hundred years requiring specialist knowledge to tell them apart. To help in identification it help to know what it might not be -a "Balsam" smell denotes the hybrid Balsam Poplar, hairless twigs and a tall, narrow shape denote the Lombardy Poplar, those grown in more northern urban areas are likely to be Manchester Poplar (clone of the native), whilst White and Grey poplars have a different leaf shape to the Black Poplar, often having white downy leaf undersides. A fast growing tree, often used to provide a screen or windbreak, commonly the cultivar "Italica", although a not preferable type because it has fragile branches and is prone to rotting causing sudden collapses.
Photo ©2009 - G. Chernilevsky
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