Balsam poplar - <em>Populus balsamifera</em> - Zone 1a -

Balsam poplar - Populus balsamifera - Zone 1a

The Balsam Poplar is a fast-growing, cold hardy deciduous tree that is very adaptable and capable of growing in a wide range of soils. In addition to its pleasant odour it enriches soils, helps impede erosion, and serves as an excellent wind-break.


The Tree

Balsam Poplars are the northernmost of the North American hardwoods with the native range extending from scattered patches in the northern United States all the way up to Alaska. This medium to large tree can typically attain heights between 20 and 25 metres, reaching as high as 30 metres in ideal circumstances.  They can live on average about 70 years. Their large ascending branches form a pyramidal crown. The long and pendulous catkins develop in early spring before the emergence of the trees lustrous leaves but detach when the leaves drop in autumn. Balsam Poplars are one of the first trees to wake with the arrival of spring; their buds filling the air with a fresh, resinous fragrance; the source of both latin and common name (Balsam, Balsamifera). The leaves and buds also produce this aroma during the summer but not as strongly. These trees are prolific sprouters, sending up shoots from roots, stumps and buried branches, even after decimation by forest fires. Balsam Poplars can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, tolerating dry soils relatively well, but prefer more humid environments such as flood plains, river banks and other lowland areas. They are not at all shade tolerant, needing significant sunlight to facilitate their rapid growth. According to its habitat the Balsam Poplar often occurs in association with other pioneer species such as: the Paper Birch, Trembling Aspen, Alder, Willow, and both White and Black Spruce.

Its Uses

The shallow and extensive root system of the Balsam Poplar is very helpful in the prevention of soil erosion and the remediation of contaminated soils and water. Their size, along with their beauty and pleasant aroma have made them a popular choice for windbreaks, particularly in urban and suburban settings where their resistance to air pollution and road salt make for added benefits. Balsam Poplar wood is particularly soft among the hardwoods but surprisingly tough relative to its weight. These qualities make it an ideal wood for the production of pulp. It is also quite widely used for making particle board, plywood, in addition to boxes and crates. Its fragrant and resinous buds are used to make the ointment, Balm of Gilead.

Height at maturityUp to 30 metres (100 feet)
Spacing12 metres (40 feet)
Hardiness zone1a
SoilHumid, mineral rich
Sun / shadeFull sun
Average fruit weightn/a
Fruit colorn/a
Years to bear fruitn/a
Latin namePopulus balsamifera
Average diameter of fruitn/a
Also known asBamtree, Hackmatack, Tacamahac Poplar, Tacamahaca