Features and characters of the individual
Poplar trees: facts and stories
Poplar trees have existed on earth for more than 100 million years! When it comes to trees being heard, poplars are always the first to start ‘whispering’ when the slightest of breezes hits their foliage. The leaves hang from long leaf stems (petioles) that dance in the wind.
This characteristic earned poplars many different names in ancient times. The Greeks called poplars ‘pappalein’, which means ‘to move in the wind’. For the Romans, the sound made by poplar trees was thought to resemble the noise of a crowd, so they gave it the name ‘populus’ (‘people’). In Latin, this word also refers to an assembly of free men. The Romans planted poplar trees in public spaces where citizens gathered.
More recently, during the American Revolution and then during the French Revolution, this tree was frequently planted as a symbol of liberty. Poplar trees were the second most loved tree in the heart of French revolutionaries, just behind the lime tree.
Did you know?
Lombardy poplar trees are often planted in rows out on plains to serve as windbreakers.
They have powerful buttress roots that strengthen and widen the tree’s base with additional wood. These structural reinforcements creep up the trunk, starting from the roots. They look like the base of towers and fortified castles. This helps poplar trees to remain stable and withstand strong gusts of wind.
Poplars aren’t the only trees that produce buttress roots, but they are a great example of how well it can be done.
The benefits of poplar trees
The main benefit that poplars provide is their ability to draw up very large amounts of water from the ground and release it into the atmosphere. They add humidity to the air, have a cooling effect, and make the air more breathable during heatwaves. This humidity is good for human lungs in summer, as is the oxygen produced by the tree’s foliage. Poplars are useful for reducing flooding, as they are able to dry out soil quite well. Finally, Lombardy poplar trees are unparalleled in their suitability as windbreakers all year round. These properties could make poplars useful allies in countering the effects of climate change in urban environments.
How to recognise a Lombardy poplar
tall and thin, shaped like a rocket
triangle-shaped, with long leaf stems (petioles) and serrated edges; fall from the tree in autumn (deciduous)
dark green in spring with glossy top sides and light undersides; bright yellow in autumn; and no foliage in winter
deep furrows (grooves)
Specifics about this tree
This poplar stands at the edge of the pond like a lighthouse. Standing 35–40m tall and with nothing else around it, this specimen is a real landmark – even more so in autumn when its foliage turns bright yellow! It was clearly planted here to help shape the urban landscape. This is one reason it qualifies as a remarkable tree, both at the municipal and regional level.
As you approach this giant of a tree, you’ll realise that its branches grow almost vertically. Every part of this tree points up to the sky. It is the only tree around the ponds that has a rocket-like shape.
Its bark is also magnificent, looking like a whole landscape in itself: rosy peaks, grey slopes, and dark valleys full of other vegetation. These ‘peaks’ are formed by the younger wood that grows each year, pushing at the older bark like magma rising out of ground rock. The bark is forced aside and ages over time. The older the bark, the greater its coverage with lichens. As the bark moves, it creates deep furrows (grooves) that are colonised by moss. The bark looks a little like an evolving mountain range.
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin- Sylvolutions)
This portrait is:
- Enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden.
- An initiative of Christos Doulkeridis, Mayor of Ixelles , Audrey Lhoest, portfolio holder for Environment, Green Spaces and Planting, and Tourism and the Ixelles Communal executive