Ten Popular Poplar Trees

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. None are particularly well suited for use as landscape trees, though they do have their appeal.

It is true, there are not many things that are as majestic as the color of a clonal stand of Quaking Aspen, blazing gold in their autumn glory. Likewise, the sight of a lone Japanese poplar, giving admirers of a field of wildflowers a shady respite in the afternoon sun.

Of course, there are the streets, paths, and allées lined with poplars that create stately shade tree festooned walks and thoroughfares that pepper the globe. All of these niches are filled wonderfully by trees in the genus Populus, but it doesn't mean they are right for most typical garden landscapes.

Their size, rooting system, and sometimes invasive habits mean you should think carefully before planting - even if you have an expansive space for them.

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

  • 01 of 10

    Japanese poplar (Populus maximowiczii)

    Japanese Poplar in a field of flowers


    DoctorEgg/ Getty Images

    The columnar shaped Japanese poplar is one of the most attractive and practical species options for a backyard landscape.

    While it is a large 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 the tradeoff with maintenance provides upside that cannot be overlooked.

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

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant
    • Sun Exposure: 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.

    These days it is seldomly used in landscapes because of its fast spread and growth rates, large size (60 - 80 feet), and diseases that annihilate plants in Salicaceae or Willow Family of which the Genus Populus is a part.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 6
    • Bloom Color: Downy Catkins in Males, Yellow in Females.
    • Sun Exposure: 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

    Pando, the small forest of clonal quaking aspens is considered to be the oldest living thing on earth. 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, 60-85 feet tall, it will grow as a smaller shrub-like species in marginal habitat zones that cannot support its full-size growth.  

    • USDA Growing Zones: 1 to 6
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant
    • Sun Exposure: 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. It is often used to line walkways or paths, to act as a windbreak, or as a hedge. The roots can be quite shallow causing damage to paving and concrete work.

    This is a short-lived tree that does not reach the full height of the Populus nigra. Instead, it reaches 40-50 feet in height and has a maximum spread of only 15 feet. 

    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 Growing Zones:  2 to 10
    • Bloom Color: Deep red male catkins, dioecious.
    • Sun Exposure: 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, has meaning in the ancient language of flowers known as floriography, was integral in both Roman and Greek mythology, and was the wood often chosen by renaissance sculptors. It's 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 Growing Zones: 2-9
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant, nuisance
    • Sun Exposure: 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 wispy leafed tree as they traveled west and discovered the horses of the expedition would not eat the leaves. The leaves, like the bark of the tree, are very bitter. They have high concentrations of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, another trait poplars share with other plants in the Willow family.

    While it does make a fantastic home for wildlife and is sometimes used as an ornamental tree in the western United States, its aggressive roots 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 looking into any local ordinances on invasiveness is important.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Bloom Color:  Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Average, well-drained, sandy, loamy
  • 07 of 10

    Grey 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 enhanced biological traits compared to its parents.

    This species is used as a shade tree when planted ornamentally as it grows fast and large (often up to 100ft). 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 for near buildings or in a smaller garden setting.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant
    • Sun Exposure: 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.

    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 due to wind and ice damage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant
    • Sun Exposure: 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

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

    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. Mature trees can reach heights of 130 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Bloom Color: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: 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.

    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 Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Bloom Color: Insignificant, nuisance
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Prefers moist soil, tolerates flooding.

The Populus genus is full of trees that give us gorgeous color, stately height, and homes for wildlife. However, they aren't generally a good option for use in home gardens unless you have an expansive landscape, don't mind messy seed dispersal, and you are prefered for the diseases the trees can sometimes be afflicted by. Given that some are now classed as invasive, you should also do your research for your region before you consider planting a poplar tree.