Populus balsamifera L.
Balsam poplar, Balsam, Tacmahac
Salicaceae (Willow Family)
USDA Symbol: POBA2
A 20-60 ft. tree with dark gray, furrowed bark. Trunk is straight and branches are erect and stout. Dark green leaves are shiny on top; silvery or brown underneath. Catkins appear before the leaves emerge. Cottony seeds are blown about by the wind. Large tree with narrow, open crown of upright branches and fragrant, resinous buds with strong balsam odor.
The northernmost New World hardwood, Balsam Poplar extends in scattered groves to Alaskas Arctic Slope. Black Cottonwood, once considered a separate species (P. trichocarpa), is now considered a subspecies of Balsam Poplar. It occupies the more southerly portions of the species range in the West. Balm-of-Gilead Poplar, an ornamental with broad, open crown and larger, heart-shaped leaves, is a clone or hybrid of Balsam Poplar. Balm-of-Gilead, derived from the resinous buds, has been used in home remedies.
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Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Autumn Foliage: yes
Size Class: 36-72 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May
DistributionUSA: AK , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , IA , ID , IL , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MT , ND , NH , NV , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
Canada: AB , MB , NB , NL , NS , NT , ON , PE , QC , SK , YT
Native Distribution: N. Canada & AK, s. to w. New England, NY, WV, MI, WI, n.w. NE & CO
Native Habitat: Stream banks; conifer swamps
Growing ConditionsWater Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist soils
Conditions Comments: Not Available
BenefitUse Wildlife: Bees are said to smell this gum from afar, and to gather it on their thighs, later to employ it in sealing up the crevices of their hives. The name for the gum amongst the bee masters is ee glue. (Peattie)
Use Medicinal: Spring pollen can be a problem for people with allergies. (Clark)
The bud resin was used traditionally in cough medicines and in antiseptic ointments for stopping bleeding. (Kershaw)An ointment is, or used to be, made of the clear gum of the buds, hence the name of the tree.
Use Other: A wood so quick-growing, so abundant on otherwise useless logged-over and burned-over lands and so soft amongst hardwoods. It is nearly ideal for pulp, especially in the maufacture of magazine stock. Balsam Poplar is also remarkably tough in proportion to its light weight. This makes it valuable for boxes and crates, and for cutting into thin veneers for berry baskets. (Peattie)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Viceroy
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)Populus balsamifera is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Learn more at BAMONA
PropagationDescription: Fresh seed germinates readily when placed on a saturated seed bed.
Seed Collection: Not Available
Seed Treatment: Not Available
Commercially Avail: yes
BibliographyBibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
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Recommended Species Lists
Find native plant species by state. Each list contains commercially available species suitable for gardens and planned landscapes. Once you have selected a collection, you can browse the collection or search within it using the combination search.View Recommended Species page
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Populus balsamifera in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Populus balsamifera in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Populus balsamifera
MetadataRecord Modified: 2012-10-20
Research By: TWC Staff