Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 758 Populus alba

Common Names: white poplar, silver-leaved poplar, silver poplar Family: Salicaceae (willow Family)

white poplar
Young white poplars, like this individual at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, are attractive and fast growing.


The white poplar is a handsome, silvery-white tree. No other tree is quite so white. Young twigs and shoots are white. The bark is pale greenish white and smooth on young trees, becoming (like some Floridata writers) gray and furrowed with age. The deciduous leaves are silvery-white-wooly underneath and bluish green topsides. They flutter and glitter in even a light breeze. The leaves are 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) long and a lot like maple leaves, with 3 or 5 distinct lobes. White poplar can get 40-80 ft (12.2-24.4 m) tall with a similar spread and a trunk diameter of 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 cm). Mature trees have a broad, rounded crown. Male and female flowers are in separate hanging catkins that appear in spring before the leaves come out. Seeds mature about the time the leaves are full size, and fly away with the wind on white cottony hairs. Leaves sometimes turn bright yellow or gold in autumn.

White poplars often send up suckers and may form thickets. Branches are susceptible to breaking in storms or under heavy snow and ice loads. Several cultivars have been named. 'Pyramidalis' is only 15 ft (4.6 m) tall and cone shaped in habit. 'Richardii' has leaves that are golden-yellow on top. Gray poplar (Populus X canescens) is a natural hybrid between white poplar and European aspen (P. tremula). It is seedless, fast growing and more disease resistant than white poplar.


White poplar, Populus alba, is indigenous to central Europe, Siberia, and western Asia. European immigrants brought the white poplar to America in early colonial times. It has become naturalized in some areas of northeastern North America.


All the poplars are known for their very rapid growth and adaptability to a wide range of soil types. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Poplars are tolerant of all but constantly water-logged soils. White poplar is more drought tolerant than other poplars. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: White poplar seeds germinate readily. Suckers can be dug out and replanted. Hard wood cuttings taken in winter can be rooted.
white poplar foliage
Beautiful white stems, leaf undersides and margins are the hallmarks of this popular poplar.


White poplar is tolerant of air pollution, salt spray and most soil types, and is often planted along streets, but its thirsty roots have been known to clog drainage ditches and sewer lines, and to damage sidewalks and pavement. This is not a tidy specimen for the average lawn: it is constantly dropping crumbs, including twigs, leaves, catkins, and cottony seeds. White poplars suffer from several insects and diseases. The wood is brittle and limbs are frequently breaking off. The roots can undermine building foundations. Don't plant white poplar within 100 ft (30.5 m) of a building. It is, however, a good choice for seaside landscapes where few temperate hardwoods will thrive with as much vigor. A line of fast-growing white poplars will make a screen or windbreak in short order.


There are about 35 species in the genus Populus, which includes the poplars, cottonwoods and aspens. All are native to North America, Asia or Europe.

Steve Christman 8/3/00; updated 5/22/04

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Populus species profiled on Floridata:

Populus alba

( white poplar, silver-leaved poplar, silver poplar )

Populus deltoides

( eastern cottonwood )

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