Washington State University

Hybrid Poplar


What is Hybrid Poplar?

Poplar is the general term for trees in the genus Populus.  Thus, poplars include cottonwoods (poplars) and aspens.  Most Populus species are native to the temperate and colder areas of the northern hemisphere.  Hybrids are produced when plants of different species (usually in the same genus) are cross fertilized.  This can occur naturally where the geographic distribution of two crossable species overlap.  Hybrids are also developed through plant breeding.  Hybrids are usually more widely adaptable or tolerant of environmental extremes than the parents.

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Why hybrid poplar?

Compelling reasons for planting hybrid poplars include rapid growth and ease of vegetative propogation from stem cuttings.  On good sites, hybrid poplars grow faster than any other northern temperate region tree.  For some products, harvests can be made yearly.  Because of quick resprouting, replanting after harvesting may be unnecessary, especially for short harvest cycles.

What is there potential value and use?

Since hybrid poplars are relatively new in the Pacific Northwest, markets for the wood are only beginning to be developed.  The wood is similar to that of native black cottonwood, which is suitable for a variety of uses.

Pulp - Tests show hybrid poplar wood is exceptionally well suited for manufacture of quality paper.  Buyers and prices for hybrid poplar chips are increasing as paper companies seek to replace declines in the region's chip supply.

Lumber & Plywood - A potential market for hybrid poplar is lumber for export.  Limited sawmill tests show hybrid poplar wood equals or surpases black cottonwood, which is currently being exported for lumber.  Laboratory scale tests shoe that a high quality oriented strandborad with desirable low density can be made from hybrid poplar wood.

Fuelwood & Energy - Use of hybrid poplar for fuel holds promise, although poplar is not considered highly desirable for firewood due to its low wood density and high moisture content when green.  However, hybrid poplar used as pelletized fuel holds greater promise than use as cordwood.  Branches and tops left from pulp harvests and even small, young material can be converted to pellets for state-of the art pellet burning and thermostatically controlled home heaters.

Conservation & Ornamental Plantings - The desirability of trees for shading and bank protection along streams and rivers is increasingly recognized.  The high nitrate uptake and deep rooting of these trees make them good choices for buffer or "filter" planting along streams in agricultural areas in both coastal and inland zones.  Nonharvest uses of hybrid poplar include rapidly growing shade trees, windbreaks and screen plantings.  Most hybrid poplar trees have a single stem and a moderately spreading crown when open grown.  They also grow more rapidly and are less susceptible to some diseases than Lombardy poplar, the most commonly planted ornamental poplar.

 

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