Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)

Balsam poplar sapling. Elm Rock Farm, 2017

Other Common Names:

  • Black poplar


  • Deciduous tree up to 25m tall.
  • Trunk grey when young, turning dark and furrowed. Young branches tend to have bright orange spots (?)
  • Leaves are alternate and simple, 6-12cm long, oval to wedge-shaped, usually rounded at base, finely serrated (rounded teeth?)and tapering to tip. Shiny and dark green on top, paler below. Bottom of leaf often with dark resin blotches.
  • Glands may be present at base of leaf.
  • Petiole is hairy, 7-10cm long, round, not flattened like some other members of the Populus genus.
  • Buds are very resinous, 5-scaled, slender and pointy, orange-brown, strongly aromatic, and grow to 2.5 cm long.


  • Dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees.)
  • Male and female flowers are pale yellow green catkins. Male flowers are 2-3 cm long with tiers of red stamens. Female flowers are 8-20 cm long with reddish stigmas.
  • The fruit is a capsule that splits into two and releases white, cottony seeds.
  • Like other members of the genus, commonly reproduces via new shoots, creating stands of genetically identical trees (clonal stands.)

Similar Species:

  • Populus sp.
    • Balsam poplar is differentiated from other members of Populus by leaf shape, and round petioles (all other local Populus species have flattened petioles.)
    • Buds of balsam poplar are larger than other poplars, growing to 2.5cm.

Ecological Role:

  • Many mammals feed on the twigs and bark, including elk, deer, bear, and beaver.
  • The larvae of various butterflies feed on the leaves, including the viceroy (Limenitis archippus) butterfly


  • Inner bark can be dried and used as flour or soup thickener
  • Catkins are edible, raw or cooked

Other Uses:

  • Pulpwood, lumber, boxes crates, paper.


  • The Latin word “balsamifera” means “balsam-bearing;” balsam being an aromatic resin.