10 Poplar Trees: Pros and Cons of Each Type

Are These Large, Beautiful Trees Right for Your Garden Landscape?

White poplar tree with tall trunk and drooping branches near pathway

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

There are around 35 species of trees in the genus Populus, or poplar and none are particularly well suited for use as landscape trees. However, the poplar tree does have its appeal. Many streets, paths, and allées are lined with stately poplar shade trees. But it doesn't mean a poplar tree is right for most typical garden landscapes. There are pros and cons to having a poplar tree on your property.

Poplar Tree Pros and Cons

The Populus genus is full of stately trees, but they aren't generally a good option for use in home gardens unless you have an expansive landscape. Do your research for your region before you consider planting a poplar tree. Here are the pros and cons that affect each type of poplar tree that can help you decide if growing one is right for your yard.

Pros of Poplar Trees

  • Gorgeous color
  • Stately height
  • Houses wildlife
  • Low-maintenance

Cons of Poplar Trees

  • Extremely large
  • Invasive rooting system
  • Messy seed dispersal
  • Fragile branches

Learn more about 10 of the most popular poplar trees growing in North America.


You can identify a poplar tree usually from the bark. Poplar trees commonly have gray, white, or black bark with horizontal lines or diamond-shaped marks that darken as the tree ages. In addition, you may have a poplar if the tree in question is very tall and columnar. Some types also have a wide canopy and triangular leaves.

  • 01 of 10

    Japanese poplar (Populus maximowiczii)

    Japanese Poplar in a field of flowers

    DoctorEgg / Getty Images

    The sight of a lone vivid green Japanese poplar in a field can offer a shady respite in the afternoon sun. The columnar-shaped Japanese poplar is one of the most attractive and practical species options for a wide-open backyard landscape.

    While it is a huge tree with a large root system, it does not produce suckers and is relatively tidy. It still has the same issues with pathogens and pests as other trees in the species. But it does not require maintenance.

    It works well as a shade tree, windbreak, screen, or to line a drive.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
    • Mature Size: 100 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Prefers moist soil, adaptable consistency, demands good drainage
  • 02 of 10

    Big-Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

    Leaves of the Big-Tooth Poplar

    Andrew MacDonald AKA My TVC 15 / Getty Images

    Big-tooth aspen is a clonal tree, meaning it has a wide-ranging root system that sends up suckers at spread intervals.

    This tree, with attractive silvery green leaves, is seldom used in modern landscapes because of its fast spread and growth rates, large size, and diseases that annihilate plants in the Salicaceae or willow family of which the Genus Populus is a part, including the balm of Gilead.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 6
    • Mature Size: 60 to 80 feet tall
    • Light Sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Best in fertile, moist soil
  • 03 of 10

    Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

    Leaves starting to change on Quaking Aspen trees in Colorado.

    skibreck / Getty Images

    The quaking aspen is named for the way its leaves appear to quiver in the wind. Pando, the small forest of clonal quaking aspens in Colorado is considered to be the oldest living cloned propagation from a single tree on earth. There are not many things as majestic as the color of this clonal stand of quaking aspens, blazing golden yellow in their autumn glory. It occupies 108 acres and is comprised of over 40,000 trunks. This is evidence of the ability of Populus tremuloides to spread through suckering.

    The quaking aspen, while beautiful, has become invasive in most areas it inhabits. Though normally a large tree, it will grow as a smaller shrub-like species in marginal habitat zones that cannot support its full-size growth.  

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 1 to 6
    • Mature Size: 60 to 85 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, consistently moist, well-drained soils
  • 04 of 10

    Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra)

    An allée of Lombardy Poplar in Italy

    Kim Sayer / Getty Images

    Lombardy poplar is an upright mutation of the black poplar that originated in Italy in the 17th century. Thanks to its yellow fall foliage, the tree is often used to line walkways, paths, to act as a windbreak, or as a hedge. The roots of this short-lived tree can be quite shallow causing damage to paving and concrete work.

    Much like any tree in the genus, it is advised that if the species is planted only male plants are selected. Female plants shed their cottony seeds and can be considered messy.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 10
    • Mature Size: 40 to 50 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Rich, humusy, fertile, consistently moist but well-drained
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    White Poplar (Populus alba)

    Silver poplar in autumn against the blue sky.

    Leonid Eremeychuk / Getty Images

    Populus alba has been written about by authors and playwrights and was the wood often chosen by Renaissance sculptors. Its beautiful silver leaves are a sight to behold.

    Though popular, the white poplar is now considered invasive in many places throughout the United States, where it has been introduced in 43 states. The tree is often looked at as a nuisance as it spreads easily and hybridizes with Populus tremulus, resulting in the extremely vigorous Populus × canescens.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 9
    • Mature Size: 60 to 100 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Average, medium to wet, well-drained soils
  • 06 of 10

    Willow-leaved Poplar (Populus angustifolia)

    Populus angustifolia in Yellowstone National Park

    Gerald Corsi / Getty Images

    Along their journey, explorers Lewis and Clark encountered this tree with its wispy branches as they traveled west and discovered the horses of the expedition would not eat the leaves. The dark green leaves, like the bark of the tree, are very bitter. They have a high concentration of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, which is another trait poplars share with other plants in the willow family.

    While it does make a fantastic habitat for wildlife and is sometimes used as an ornamental tree in the western United States, its aggressive root system can cause severe damage to foundations, sewage pipes, and septic systems.

    This trait, however, does make the species an attractive prospect for bank stabilization and erosion mediation. Before planting this tree, it's important to look into any local ordinances on invasive plants.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Mature Size: 70 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Average, well-drained, sandy, loamy
  • 07 of 10

    Gray Poplar (Populus × canescens)

    Seemingly endless line of Grey Poplars lining road in the Netherlands

    RuudMorijn / Getty Images

    Populus × canescens is a hybrid of Populus alba and Populus tremulus, and shows considerable hybrid vigor, meaning the tree has enhanced biological traits compared to its parents.

    The gray (or grey) poplar is used as a shade tree when planted as an ornamental tree since it grows fast and tall. It will sucker and has a vast root system, so while it can make a stately row of trees it isn't a good choice to plant near buildings or in a smaller garden setting.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
    • Mature Size: 100 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained
  • 08 of 10

    Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

    Eastern Cotton Wood with Pollen in spring time.

    Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

    Populus deltoides is spread throughout the eastern half of the country, from Florida diagonally across the south and the great plains northwest to Montana. It can be spotted thanks to its bright yellow fall foliage.

    First described by the famed colonial botanist William Bartram, the seeds of the eastern cottonwood are light and feathery and spread easily on the wind making a mess as they scatter. The notoriously weak wood of the tree also has the habit of breaking from wind and ice damage. You should avoid planting cottonwood near any important structure. Though this tree can grow to over 140 feet tall, it easily reaches 80 feet in just 40 years.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 9
    • Mature Size:  80 to 140 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet, well-drained soils
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Canadian Poplar (Populus × canadensis)

    Leaves and fruits of a Canadian poplar tree (Populus x canadensis)

    weisschr / Getty Images

    Canadian poplar is a naturally occurring hybrid between Populus nigra and Populus deltoides. It's another example of how easily trees in the genus Populus hybridize.

    The tree’s relative resistance to canker and leaf spot makes it a good selection compared to other columnar-shaped poplars. There are numerous cultivars available in the nursery trade to select from.

    The tree is large and fast-growing and does need a considerable space investment.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Mature Size: 130 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Well-drained soil
  • 10 of 10

    Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)

    Fremont cottonwood in Adobe Buttes in Autumn

    Horst Mahr / Getty Images

    While east of the Rockies there is Populus deltoides, west of the range, Populus fremontii thrives in areas that are frequently inundated with water. Stream banks, riverbeds, and wetlands are the preferred home for this stately western poplar that exhibits golden yellow fall foliage.

    The once iconic tree is being threatened due to drought, livestock grazing, and timber harvesting. There are numerous programs in effect to help repopulate the species, which is invaluable in helping deter erosion, abate flooding, and to keep ecologically diverse.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Mature Size: 70 to 90 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Prefers moist soil, tolerates flooding

Are Poplar Trees Good For Your Yard?

Though it's tempting to grow these big, beautiful trees in your yard for the spectacular fall color, it's a better idea to go for more medium-sized landscape trees. Also consider that the root system of poplar trees can grow fast and may creep under hardscaping, pipes, and buildings and cause problems and disruptions.

If you're interested in other types of poplar-like trees that have beautiful fall foliage but are not as problematic or as large as poplar trees for your landscape, consider these birch trees and maple trees. In addition, if you'd like to know more about what trees to avoid planting in your landscape, which includes the poplar tree, read up on other problematic yard trees that are considered messy, weak, pest magnets, invasive, or can cause underground damage.

Article Sources
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  1. Pando. USDA Forest Service.