DALS WILDLIFE SITE { WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND}

WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Get to know the Poplar tree.

Around the environs of our local lake the dominant tree is the grey poplar. They belong to a fascinating family of trees which include the white poplar,Populus alba, the black poplar Populus nigra and hybrids occurring between the species as we shall see. The grey poplars around the environs of our local wetland are of a great age and maintenance is a regular requirement to safe guard visitors and the working countryside rangers from falling branches or indeed falling trees.Nethertheless they are beautiful trees that attract much wildlife to their trunks and boughs and they enhance their locality with their beauty.

Poplars and their relatives are all members of the Salicaceae-the willow family.  The black poplar is a handsome tree which has a tendency to lean, and it presents to the observer, large arching boughs, that can not fail to please the tree lover. From a distance those that are familiar with the tree will recognize its characteristic shape with ease. Closer the tree trunk can be identified by its rugged fissured bark especially so on older trees.

The root system is far reaching and it is greedy for water and therefore a characteristic tree of flood plains.It is capable of reaching a height of 100 feet. The flowers of P.nigra in common with all the family members are catkins. Seeds are surrounded by downy fluffy hairs which aid the transportation of seeds. The foliage of this fine tree are stalked and relatively large being up to 10cm long. It is unfortunate that the tree is now becoming scarce in the U.K. and most trees seen around wetlands and similar situations are hybrids between the European and Canadian black poplars and given the scientific name of Populus x canadensis. These too, have relatively large leaves and reddish catkins.

Photograph--the foliage of the poplar populus x canadensis

The white poplar P.alba, is a deciduous tree but is far more broadly columnar and produces young shoots that are densely covered with white hairs. The flowers in common with all poplars are catkins, in this species, they are about 8cm long, produced in early spring, the male and female flowers borne on separate trees.

The foliage on vigorous shoots can be somewhat maple-like in form. Elsewhere on the tree the foliage has shallow lobes. The maple -like foliage is more evident on the "suckers" produced by the roots of the parent tree. They may be encountered above ground some distance from their original source. The bark of the white poplar is pale grey and usually fissured near the base.

The grey poplar is thought to be the hybrid between the common aspen P.tremula and the white poplar P.alba known by the scientific name of Populus x canescens. It is a vigorous tree, deciduous in nature and spreads as in the previous species by means of suckers. Studies have revealed that most grey poplars produce male bearing flowers in the form of catkins which are pendulous and have red anthers. They are produced in spring.

In woodlands the canopy tends to be more columnar as they have to compete for space.

ABOVE--Young grey poplars in open spaces  have a spreading canopy

The bark of the grey poplar is very easily identified even throughout the winter by the dark diamond shaped markings that occur on the trunk. The tree may reach the height of 30m or so and delights to grow in damp woodland. The young shoots are covered in dense white hairs. The rounded to oval foliage are toothed and have shallow lobes. The foliage is downy on both surfaces when young becoming smooth and of a deep green colour above and nearly smooth beneath. The underside being lighter in colour.

ABOVE--the distinctive diamond shaped markings of the grey poplar twigs. BELOW-- twig showing both surfaces of the grey poplar foliage.

The aspen tree Populus tremula has the most widespread distribution of any tree in the northern hemisphere of the world. They are found throughout Europe, from the Artic circle to north Africa, northern Asia, and from China to Japan. The quaking aspen Populus tremuloides is the species that is widely distributed from as far north as Alaska through Canada and south through America reaching as far down as Mexico inhabiting the Rockies.

The flowers of the aspen are catkins male and female borne on separate trees. Male catkins are of a grey colour while the female  catkins are greenish. The cottony plumes that help in the dispersal of seeds are more downy than any other polar tree species. They hang down from the tree like some large hairy caterpillars.

The foliage carried on flattened stalks which allow them to rustle in the slightest breeze, hence the species name of tremula {and tremuloides}. This rustling sound is distinctive to aspens. The blade of the leaf is rounded or broadly oval that have rounded lobes. In common with other species the largest leaves appear on the most vigorous shoots.

They appear bronzed at first becoming grey-green above and paler beneath usually smooth on both surfaces. The main reproductive method of the aspen in common with other relatives is by means of "suckers". However, the production of the "suckers" of this species is a fascinating subject to botanists and scientists alike. Studies of the root system has revealed some amazing facts. The new "suckers" or to be more precise Ramets are regenerated from the roots of the parent tree. What is remarkable they stay connected to the parent tree even after becoming established as fully  fledged trees. They then produce "suckers" which remain attached to their arboreal mothers, that are in turn attached to the "grandparent" tree, thus the process continues.

All the connected trees are regarded as being a single organism which scientist describe as Clones. I have read somewhere that one such clone in Utah {U.S.A.} manes as the Pando clone contains some 50,000 individual trees and covers a massive area. Scientists have estimated the weight as being in excess of 6,000 tonnes, which gives it the honor of being the worlds largest living organism. {source wikipedia}.

Studies further revealed that individual trees may die off but the underground clone still lives on, still producing "suckers". This makes the aspen almost immortal, I find this to be an amazing fact.

The poplar trees are indeed a fascinating family of trees.

ABOVE--grey poplars enjoying the spring sunshine. BELOW--- the foliage of the aspen tree Courtesy of MPF . {Wikipedia commons share alike.} CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

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