Hybrid Poplar Catkin

In February I discussed winter buds and showed a picture of a hybrid poplar bud. We have several of these hybrid black poplars (Populus sp.) near our house (Lookout CA). The large resinous (sticky) buds have now opened and the trees are covered with beautiful catkins.
You can see the bud scales surrounding the emerging catkins. Well. . . the catkins are pretty, but when they fall along with the sticky bud scales it does make a mess.

Hybrid poplars result from crossing cottonwoods, aspens and poplars. The male and female catkins (flowers or reproductive parts) of hybrid poplars are usually found on separate trees. Our trees were planted long before we lived on the ranch, however I believe they are male clones from a European black poplar and a cottonwood. The catkins are bright red and about three inches long. They do not produce seeds tufted by cottony down. Shoots do arise from the roots though. To keep from being overrun with hybrid poplars we need to be aggressive about grubbing the shoots.

Hybrid poplars are planted for several reasons. They are one of the fastest growing trees in North America and can provide shade, wind breaks, and ornamental screens within a few years. The wood is used for lumber and plywood and makes good fuel. When pulped the wood makes excellent quality paper. Hybrid poplars also have high uptake of nitrates, making them useful for “filtering” along streams. 

Before long the catkins will all fall and our hybrid poplars will begin to leaf out with their dark green cordate leaves. Amazing what was “hidden” in those winter buds!

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