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Populus balsamifera (Balsam poplar)
Weyand, Phyllis

Populus balsamifera

Populus balsamifera L.

Balsam Poplar, Balsam, Tacmahac, Hackmatack, Tacamahaca, Bam Tree

Salicaceae (Willow Family)


USDA Symbol: POBA2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N)

A 20-60 ft., sometimes taller, 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 Alaska's 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 Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 130 feet tall, often shorter.
Leaf: Yellow-Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Brown

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May


USA: 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 Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist soils


Use 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)

(Limenitis archippus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Fresh seed germinates readily when placed on a saturated seed bed.
Commercially Avail: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.


Bibref 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

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Populus balsamifera in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Populus balsamifera in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Populus balsamifera


Record Modified: 2022-09-23
Research By: TWC Staff

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