Populus alba (White Poplar)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Salicaceae (Willow)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; urban landscapes, parks, farmsteads, mesic woods
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:40 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious) in hanging clusters (catkins) from the leaf axils of 1 year old branches. Male catkins are 1¼ to 2½ inches long with tiers of red stamens mixed with soft silky hairs. Female catkins are 2 to 4 inches long with each flower having a 2-lobed stigma.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate and simple with a slightly flattened leaf stalk, the blade 1½ to 3 inches long and about as wide, variable in shape. On short branches leaves are nearly round to egg-shaped with coarse rounded lobes or teeth along margins. On root suckers and long shoots, leaves are palmately 3 to 5-lobed, often looking much like a maple leaf in form. The upper leaf surface is dark green and shiny, the lower surface is bright white from dense woolly hairs.

[photo of mature trunk] Twigs are white with a dense, wooly covering, light green beneath. Buds are small, less than ¼ inch long, round and conical, reddish brown under dense, white hairs.Bark is smooth and thin, creamy white to greenish gray on younger branches and the upper trunk, often with dark diamond shaped lenticels (pores), the lower portion of the trunk has dark vertical ridges with deep furrows between. Specimens with a diameter at breast height of over 5 feet have been reported but 24 inches or less is more typical.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruits is a green, narrowly conical capsule on the long pendulous catkins. When mature the capsule splits into two halves, releasing the cottony seed.


An early European introduction, White Poplar has moved from urban and farmstead plantings into natural forest habitats. It is a fast growing, short lived tree with weak wood. It suckers freely from the roots, forming clonal stands and is considered invasive in both North America and Australia. A columnar form called Bolleana Poplar is still sold in the nursery trade but in Minnesota it is subject to sunscald, canker and winter dieback and is now rarely seen. The densely woolly and white undersides of the leaves distinguish it from any other tree species, though the palmately lobed trees have been misidentified by more than a few uninformed as silver maple.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Paul - Otter Tail County
on: 2016-07-31 20:58:23

We were out for a drive by our lake place tonight and found what we've decided is a white poplar east of the town of Battle Lake. Neither of us had ever seen a tree like that before and this description fits almost perfectly. It had rough bark at the base, the upper, younger branches had smooth gray bark that we both said looked like poplar, but the leaves almost had a maple shape to them. We were stumped until we found this. I saw there was no documentation of them in Otter Tail County but I think we may able to update your map. If you want pics of the leaves let me know and I can send them. Thanks!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-07-31 21:07:25

Paul, the best way to get the maps updated is to collect a specimen and submit it to the Bell Herbarium, then it becomes part of the official record and we'll get those updates in time.

Posted by: Brian V - Minnetonka
on: 2016-09-23 13:03:51

The woods behind my house is full of this species. Indeed, very weak wood. I do find the leaves beautiful in the wind.

Posted by: Gary - Scanlon, MN
on: 2017-09-04 20:28:50

I've seen it growing along the side of the highway connecting Scanlon and Cloquet. Looks to be escaped by seed rather than spreading by root suckers from a yard tree. Not a big patch.

Posted by: luciearl - owatonna
on: 2017-10-24 19:43:51

This is growing along side the road near Mineral Springs Park. Was hoping it was native, because I like the velvety underside. BUT, I only stick with natives.

Posted by: Carrie A Wangerin - McLeod county Glencoe
on: 2018-07-16 21:09:32

My grandmother has many white poplars on the edge of her farm. Took me awhile to figure out exactly what they were but have loved watching them flutter in the wind since I was little.

Posted by: Emma - Bagley MN
on: 2018-10-07 18:40:45

I am in 7th grade, and doing a leaf project. I saw this tree in someone's yard, and thought it was fake! It's very pretty.

Posted by: Barbara A Wegner - Walcott twp, Rice County (Ruskin)
on: 2019-12-20 10:32:07

My father planted this tree in my yard in the early-mid sixties. He had a huge tree in his yard in Faribault, MN. This is where I grew up & often climbed his tree. He got my tree from a sucker plant in his yard. He did call it a Silver Maple! So I have always believed him.

So now you have proven to me that the tree is not a Silver Maple! We will be cutting the tree down this winter as it looks to be too tall & unsafe. It is very dirty in the spring because it looks like a blanket of snowy worms on the ground! I will not miss that at all. The tree has shaded our home for years, I will miss the shade.

Posted by: Wanda Stang - White Bear Lake
on: 2020-07-01 13:26:12

I was just told what kind of tree we have by a man who trims trees. We knew it was unusual,but couldn't pin down what kind of tree. We love it. The original owners of our home in the 1940's had a apple tree farm no other homes were around our home. I'm not sure how old this white poplar is but its big 50 to 60 feet. Welcome to take photos or I can send in some photos if you like. Thank you for this site to help us identify plants in Minnesota. Wanda Stang

Posted by: Fred Crea - Minneapolis
on: 2020-09-17 12:48:09

There is a large one behind our yard on the Canadian Northern RR property that runs along I 94 near franklin Ave. It has sent out dozens of suckering roots well into our yard. These are uncomfortable to step on and they sprout many trees that crowd other vegetation. While it is pretty to look at we wish it didn't exist here.

Posted by: Troy Rognrud - Minneapolis
on: 2021-03-19 20:11:19

I stumbled upon a small grove of this beautiful species located above the Bluffs overlooking the "Hump Yard" and the Minneapolis Water Works!

Posted by: Garrett - Shafer, MN
on: 2021-05-21 20:54:20

I have a stand of these on the corner of my property visable from the road. I thought they were a birch, and liked the color of the spring leaves, sage like coloring, but seeing as they are non-native and agressive I will keep them where they are probably cut back the new sprouts.

Posted by: Barb Spears - Quaking Bog, Theodore Wirth Parkway, Minneapolis
on: 2021-07-21 13:24:20

Sadly, I was surprised to see this in the Quaking Bog and hope folks are working to eradicate this. The bog is such a wonderful and unique habitat, I'd had to see this species take over.

Posted by: Shawna Sellner - Sleepy Eye
on: 2022-07-08 19:10:54

This is the most beautiful tree I've ever seen. Located at the back patio of Zorbaz on the Lake in Spicer. I go there just to sit and enjoy the tree!

Posted by: Donna Turner - Anoka County
on: 2023-11-13 14:25:33

Several groups of them growing in the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Reserve near the eastern end of Rice Lake and on the north side of the paved trail just west of Aqua Lane.

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