What it looks like

Balsam poplar is notable for its pointed, shiny, oval-shaped leaves and resin-dotted undersides. Apart from other native poplars, this species has sticky, fragrant buds that smell of balsam. Male trees flower in long, hanging catkins before the leaves appear and female trees disperse fluffy seeds into the air in late spring.

Balsam poplar has flat gray scaly ridges at maturity.

Where it is found

The range of balsam poplar spans coast to coast in Canada, and grows everywhere in Ontario except on the northernmost fringe near Hudson Bay. It is one of the hardiest deciduous trees in Canada.

Planting Tips

  • Size: Up to 25 m tall
  • Moisture: Prefers moist soils
  • Shade: Intolerant of shade, prefers full sun
  • Soil: Prefers rich, well-drained soil

Balsam poplar can provide a quick “nurse crop” for shade-tolerant species needing wind protection to get established, such as hemlock or white pine.

It is often planted as a fast-growing windbreak in rural areas and does not root sucker as readily as other species.

Did you know?

Bees sometimes harvest the resin from balsam poplar and use it to disinfect their hives.

Image credits

  • Tree: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
  • Leaf: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
  • Bark: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
  • Berries: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service