Getting behind the trees physical and healing properties and understanding of practical qualities is the key to comprehend their unique character.
An esoteric study of trees in folklore and mythology is essential to understand them more extensively and clearly in order to obtain exclusive benefits from them.
By esoteric study, I suggest naturally gravitating towards the intellectual side of trees and appreciating their uniqueness and individuality to a great extent.
Poplar – A tree for temperance
Let’s know about the mythical meaning of Poplar tree in folklore and mythology by first emphasizing upon their geographical distribution and significance.
The accumulated global knowledge and information on the majestic Poplar trees have a tendency to fill many volumes.
Why poplar is known as a tree for temperance is because of the fact that it provides balance, peace, patience and moderation in everyone’s life.
In New England, Poplars were once considered as a “trash tree” because it is short-lived and not of much used. What is so special about this tree is its remarkable character as the Latin meaning of Populus is people or crowd or a multitude of trees as they usually grow in colonies.
Now let’s summarize the various characteristics of Poplar trees that made them so attractive and beneficial along with their historical meanings and findings in ancient scripts.
A Brief Introduction on Poplar Trees
1. It is the deciduous tree which means it is a flower producing tree from the family Salicaceae. They are wind-pollinated and have flowers that are on catkins.
2. The poplar tree is native to most of the temperate regions of the world.
3. The family Salicaceae is also commonly known around the world as the willow family.
It systematically comprises of 55 genera and 1,000 plus species of deciduous or evergreen shrubs and trees all across the world.
4. The Salicaceae family includes the willows, poplar, aspen trees and cottonwoods to be more certain.
5. There are over 30 different species of the Poplar tree throughout the world.
6. Poplars are best described as fast-growing trees because they grow best along the river-beds and water-rich areas of the world.
7. Poplars are fastigiated which means they grow upwards in a columnar fashion narrowing towards the top.
In other words, they have upright usually clustered branches.
8. The native poplar tree is dioecious which means male and female flowers are found on different individual trees
9. Poplar trees often grow quite tall with different varieties varying between 50 and 160 feet in height.
10. Do you know? Populus nigra or black Poplar trees grows up to 30m in height. The Latin meaning of Populus nigra is “People of the dark.” Interesting, no?
11. Poplar trees need sunny spaces to grow and expand properly.
12. The root systems of the Poplar tree is extremely vigorous and invasive, stretching up to 40 meters.
This means if they are planted in close proximity to houses or ceramic water pipes have the potential to damage the buildings and can break the underground pipes and drainage system.
13. Therefore, some municipalities have passed ordinances banning the planting of poplar trees because of their offensive behaviours.
Poplars and willows are aggressive invaders of disturbed sites, and in certain agricultural and forestry conditions, they are regarded as weeds.
14. Poplar trees prefer moist soil that is slightly acidic.
15. The life span of hybrid poplar trees is between 25 to 50 years. They are usually short-lived trees.
16. The hybrid poplar trees were first described as intercontinental hybrids in 1755 in France.
Now they are recognized as Euroamerican poplars around the world.
17. But it should also be kept in mind that some varieties of Poplars such as eastern cottonwoods generally live for 70 – 100 years old.
They have a tremendous potential to live for 200 to 400 years when provided ideal conditions.
18. The popularity and productivity of these hybrids led to a milestone in modern-day popular culture when the first controlled hybridization of poplar trees was successfully achieved by A. Henry in 1912.
Popular culture is that type of media that have mass accessibility and appeal.
19. Later, Stout and Schreiner began hybridizing poplars at the New York Botanical Garden, the USA in 1933.
Those productive hybrids were experimented worldwide and were introduced in many countries at that time.
Many of them displayed ‘hybrid vigour’, and some are still in use today. Hybrid vigour or heterosis is the term used for those trees that produce proper yields and so is crucial for global food security.
20. The pioneer works of Henry and Stout and Schreiner in 1933 spawned poplar hybridization programmes throughout the world, especially in Europe and Asia.
It is their untiring efforts that made hybrid poplar varieties popular everywhere.
21. Do you know the first formal research institute of poplar breeding and culture was founded in 1937 in Italy.
22. It was at that time in the history when the world was changing after World War 2 which also resulted in the increasing worldwide demand for wood products align with the rising world population growth hastened the spread of fast-growing poplar hybrids to all corners of the world, including China, Pakistan and India.
23. Do you know poplar trees are mostly grown as an ornamental tree in southern Europe or everywhere else in the world.
Do you know? The Lombardy poplar, for example, is the most widely used trees in ornamental landscape plantings throughout the world.
24. Taking care of poplar trees is also manageable as only slight pruning of ornamental poplar trees is needed once a year by removing any dead or diseased part from the tree.
25. Unfortunately, black poplar has gradually become a declining species in the Uk but it is estimated that they still grow well and generously in damp areas, near canals and floodplains.
26. In South Asian countries, Populus deltoids which are also commonly known as Cottonwoods can be planted exclusively near waterlogged areas, along the canals, and as roads defence embankments.
Deltoides means triangular, referring to the leaf shape.
27. Most Poplar trees make cotton (hence, the name cottonwoods) but it is only the female trees that produce it.
Female trees produce a capsule which eventually splits open to disperse numerous small seeds usually attached to cotton-like strands.
28. Poplar is an exotic tree in some countries of South Asia and was introduced in these countries in the mid-1950s.
29. Since then, it has gained popularity in both India and Pakistan due to its miscellaneous uses as a commercial timber tree, trading potential and rapid growth rate associated with these trees.
30. Do you know? Poplar trees are greatly susceptible to termite attacks, causing significant losses to Poplars every year.
31. Therefore, farmers mainly used logs of poplar as bait in termite traps (known as termaps or termite bait system) for biocontrol of termites in crops.
32. Farmers usually cultivate Poplar trees within agricultural fields because it remains leafless during winter months.
This tree has an ability to adjust exceedingly well with most of the agricultural crops grown especially in the winter season.
33. Over time, Poplar trees have become the most popular tree species for agroforestry system throughout the world due to its fast growth rate, easy marketing strategies and various remarkable uses which we will discuss later in detail.
34. Traditionally, farmers grow Lombardy Poplars in linear and block fashion because they act as a windbreak around their agricultural fields along with other tree species to protect against wind erosion.
35. A poplar tree consumes 20 – 30 litre of water every day.
36. It has been observed by botanists that those areas suffer scarcity of water and soil becomes barren with the passage of time wherever Poplar trees have been introduced as an exotic tree species.
37. It has been examined that the water level becomes low and salinity is seen when they are used as an exotic variety.
38. Here, I would like to mention some facts about the famous Pando forest which is made of thousands of Populus tremuloides clones. Incredible no?
39. The other name of Populus tremuloides is trembling Aspen or quaking Aspen which is distinguished by its leaves.
40. Not forgetting about the Pando forest which is actually a colony of an individual male tree Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides).
In other words, it is believed to be a forest of genetically identical trees.
41. Black poplar wood is fine textured, soft and virtually white in colour. It is naturally flexible and resistant to shock due to its water-absorbing quality.
42. Poplar tree represents a reasonable candidate for phytoremediation which is a recent technology to clean up soil, air and water contaminated with hazardous contaminants by using living trees.
Poplar along with the willows are ideal trees for this purpose.
43. The Balmville tree which was cut due to safety concerns in 2015 was the oldest eastern cottonwood in the United States.
Read more about this historical tree here which as narrated by the local folklore as the tree grew when George Washington planted his walking stick there.
44. The largest recorded cottonwood tree in the world is the Frimley Park tree located in Hastings, New Zealand. This cottonwood was planted in the 1870s. It measures 42 m tall, 34 m wide and 10.2 m in girth.
45. In the southern hemisphere, the increasing demand for matchwood prompted interest in poplar growing.
46. When China hosted the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, millions of Chinese citizens planted trees to create a better environment for the Games.
47. Chile has a long history of planting poplars, starting in the mid-19th century; since about 1985, private industry has contributed significantly to sustainable rural development by planting poplars.
48. At about the same time in North America, the Homestead Act of 1862 in the USA and the Dominion Land Act of 1872 in Canada required homesteaders to plant trees and cultivate the soil in exchange for land in the west.
These laws encouraged settlers to plant huge areas of native poplars (and some willows) on the prairies of North America and prompted the formation of shelterbelt programmes in Canada and the USA.
49. Do you know? According to Martin, et al, poplar trees are especially important to the diet of beavers in the Northeast U.S.
American Wildlife and Plants by Martin, Zim, and Nelson cite the following trees as used by beaver in various parts of the U.S.: poplar (cottonwoods and aspens), along with other native trees.
It is generally noted that beavers prefer to cut down those trees that are soft-wooded which in turn, encourages hard-wooded trees such as oaks to receive more sunshine and thrive well.
Poplar trees in folklore and mythology
Traditional Uses of Poplar Trees
50. Native black poplar has a long history of being used for timber as it is a valued natural resource for construction. They are also used to make pallets and plywood.
51. The ancient Romans and Greeks considered the poplar tree as a symbol of protection and endurance.
They honoured these trees by creating shields and shelters from the wood of poplar trees.
52. Do you know the wood of native Poplar trees has natural fire-resistant quality? This made them an ideal competitor for used as floorboards particularly in those days when the use of paraffin (kerosene) lamps was in demand and commonly used in household purposes.
53. Nearly all Poplar tree wood requirement of industry is being fulfilled from farm-grown Poplar trees in many countries of the world.
54. There was a time in the early 1990s when Poplar based agroforestry systems in South Asian countries provide an annual income of Rs 70, 000 to 80,000 per acre (approximately 180 US dollars) which was a huge amount at that time.
55. The bark of poplar trees is used to make tonics to reduce fever and diarrhoea. They are also used as stimulants and blood purifier in some Asian countries.
56. The wood of Populus ciliata is obtained to create the paper for writing, wrapping gifts and printing.
57. The wood of Poplar trees has become an essential raw material for matches and packaging industries.
58. Admired for its shock-absorbing qualities, Poplar trees were used to make boxes, cardboard, crates, carts, and clogs or wooden shoes.
59. The wood of poplar is reckoned for its high elasticity and this made it an ideal choice for the production of snowboards as well as used to make musical instruments such as electric guitars and drums.
60. The leaves of poplar trees have astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities.
The leaves of poplar, when used as a herbal tea, have a cleansing effect on kidneys.
61. Poplar trees produce copious amount of sap in early spring when their production is at its peak.
This sap when utilized properly makes an extraordinary external ointment for bruises.
62. The Balm of Gilead includes Poplar as a component.
63. There was a time when the wood of Poplar trees was most commonly used for panel paintings in Italy preferred because of its unique colour and texture.
This is the reason most of the early Renaissance Italian arts were painted on Poplar wood including the famous Mona Lisa.
Poplar trees symbolizes eternal life
64. In ancient Rome, it was customary for people to arrange their meetings or gatherings under the shade of Poplar trees.
The poplar was so widely planted at that time that the Roman proposed a title for that tree named as Arbor Populi or tree of the people.
65. Hence, the name Poplar is originated from the Latin or Roman word “Populus” which means people or so many.
66. The poplar tree is linked to people because of the fluttering habit of poplar leaves which in the slightest breeze make a noise likened to talking. The poplar was a very popular tree among the people of ancient times.
67. This is an elegant reminder for us to acknowledge how this tree was once contemplated so safe and secure and celebrated as a symbol of protection and wellness in those ancient times as well.
68. Poplar tree represents the water element in many forms by providing protection, nourishment and balance to the surroundings.
69. The poplar tree empowers harmony in outstanding issues and healing powers.
70. In American culture, poplar tree symbolizes death because of the fact that poplar trees were used to lynch black people. “The poplar trees were not used for bearing life but for the slaughter of African Americans.“
Folklores and mythology about poplar trees
71. According to Greek mythology, the black poplar was created after Phaeton’s ferocious attempt to drive Apollo’s chariot. In some versions, the Phaeton’s seven sisters, known as Heliades, made such an outcry mourning for his death, keeping vigil where Phaeton fell to Earth until the gods transformed the sisters into black Poplar trees and their tears into amber.
72. This legend might be the reason for poplar trees rightly seen as the symbol of protection, restoration and balancing conspiracies in controversial issues.
73. The poplar tree symbolises sadness and loneliness. It was once considered unlucky in association with it’s trembling nature.
Due to its massive roots system, it was considered unlucky and a sign of bad luck when planted close to a dwelling.
74. To be more precise, the fallen red male catkins( flower clusters) are portrayed in some folklores ( For instance, in Northern England) as Devil’s fingers and supposed to bring bad luck when touched, collected or even preserved.
75. The poplar tree is linked with winter season which also symbolises tranquillity and calmness in harsh weather conditions.
76. Greek gods are thought to have woven wreaths made from aspen leaves ( Populus tremula) and Herakles (or Hercules as he is known worldwide in many kinds of literature) was fond of Aspen leaves as cited in many historical scripts such as ( mentioned below)
77. The leaves from this tree were worn as a crown by Hercules after his victory over Cacus ( the guardian of the underworld)
78. In Greek mythology, it is mentioned that the back of the poplar leaf was turned white by the sweat of Herakles or Hercules.
79. In Greek lores, Hercules lit a sacrificial fire of aspen wood when he returned from Hades.
Considering this event, the poplar tree can be seen as a symbol of courage, hope and victory in difficult situations.
80. The poplar tree is vastly used in various enchanted traditions like in divination, creating wands and pendulums from the wood of poplar trees has become a dying art.
81. The Poplar tree emerges in Celtic Tree Astrology as a symbol of creativity, intellectual, confident choices that we made in our lives, loyalty and trust to mention a few of them.
82. There is a myth regarding these trees that sometimes they quake out of repentance because it’s wood became the cross of Christ.
83. Here, I would like to recount one ancient Greco-Roman lore of the most beautiful nymph by the name Leuce. Pluto fell in love with her and abducted her to the underworld. She lived out her remaining life in his realm and when she died, Zeus transformed her into a white poplar tree that would live forever in an Elysium where the pious spent their afterlife.
This legend assumes that poplar tree can be seen as a symbol of fertility, youthfulness, abundance as well as prosperity.
84. Recent evidence dated more than 10,000 years ago suggests an interesting finding that people living along the Euphrates River in the Middle East used poplars for cooking and heating.
86. Moreover, the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates (modern-day Iraq) used poplar trees to make baskets, boats, construction, ploughs, and as animal fodder in 2100–2000 BC.
87. Archaeological studies have shown that poplar was used for cooking, heating and construction during the period between 700 and 200 BC in Youmulakekum, China, just prior to the Han Dynasty.
88. In 600 AD, the Chinese used poplars for convenience plantings along Xian roadsides and streets, as well as for fuel.
89. In addition, the Hohokam natives used cottonwood for soil stabilization and along irrigation canals in 800 AD in Mexico (now Arizona, USA).
90. European explorers who travelled to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries often returned with cuttings of poplars to plant in their home gardens.
91. In the early 1800s, the North American explorer’s Lewis and Clark relied on a cottonwood in their quest for a land/river route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Cottonwood was the source of wood for their canoes, and it was used for cooking, heating and shelter during their successful 2-year transcontinental voyage (DeVoto, 1977).
92. By the mid-1800s, cultivated poplars were so widespread in Europe that they became the motifs for several French Impressionist painters.
93. Arguably the most famous painter of poplars was the French artist Claude Monet, who started painting poplars in 1858 and began his famous ‘poplar’ series in 1891, when he painted hundreds of paintings near Giverny, France.
94. A notable story about Monet is that he ended up purchasing the subjects of his poplar paintings from the community when it threatened to harvest them
Upon learning that a row of poplar trees lining the bank of the river Epte were to be felled, Monet paid to delay the cutting so he could paint them.
95. In Ukrainian folklore and culture, poplar trees symbolize beauty or loneliness of women in love.
The love for poplar tree is beautifully exemplified in this painting, the poplar tree is growing in me by well known Ukrainian artist, Lesia Maydanets.
This 2015 article on the poplar is a clear proof for their love of these trees.
96. Poplar culture in China also goes back several millennia. In the 2400-year- old book, Hui Zi, methods of cutting and layering for planting poplars are interpreted.
97. Another book, Jin Shu, published 1500 years ago, mentioned that poplars and pagoda trees (Styphnolobium japonicum) were planted along roads in cities for shade. They were also used as living trellises to support grapes in vineyards.
As excerpted from the book, Poplars and Willows: Trees for society and the environment.
98. In England, on 29th May, the village of Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire still carry out an old custom of decorating the black poplar tree that stands at the centre of the village with flags. The present tree is quite young but is said to be descended from its original tree ancestor. This is ‘The Arbor Tree ceremony’.
“In 1789, on May 29th, the owner of an estate at this place married. His bride’s father was the owner of an adjoining estate. A poplar tree standing at some crossroads was decorated with little flags on every branch to celebrate the wedding and, although it costs several pounds to do so, the tree, now, of course, a giant, is still decorated in the same way every year.”
As excerpted from this article.
Quotes, poems and literature about Poplar trees
99. Quote about October’s Poplars by Nova Bair
October’s poplars are flaming torches lighting the way to winter.”
100. Strange Fruit by Abel Meeropol
“Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
101. A quote by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
”Trees that, like the poplar, hit upward all their boughs, give no shade and no shelter, whatever their height. Trees the most lovingly shelter and shade us, when, like the willow, the higher soar their summits, the lowlier droop their boughs.”
102. A quote by Finley Peter Dunne
“Th’ dead ar-re always pop’ lar. I knowed a society wanst to vote a monyment to a man an’ refuse to help his fam’ly, all in wan night.”
Finley Peter Dunne
103. Roadway Poplars
“All the night the frogs go chuckle, all the day the birds are singing In the pond beside the meadow, by the roadway poplar- lined by, In the field between the trenches are a million blossoms springing ‘Twixt the grass of silver bayonets where the lines of battle wind Where man has manned the trenches for the maiming of his kind.”
Soldier Songs, “The Trench” (1917)
104. The poplar never dry
“The sailing pine, the cedar proud and tall, The vine-prop elm, the poplar never dry, The builder oak, sole king of forests all, The aspen good for staves, the cypress funeral.”
By Edmund Spencer
105. Poplar tree leaves
“The morning of September 1st met the citizen of the village shining with beautiful sunny weather. A refreshing breeze, enriched by acerb fragrances of maple, oak, and poplar tree leaves that already began changing their colours for autumn, blew from the lake.”
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank …
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
107. Poem Aspens
The whisper of the aspens is not drowned,
And over lightless pane and footless road,
Empty as sky, with every other sound
Not ceasing, calls their ghosts from their abode,
A silent smithy, a silent inn, nor fails
In the bare moonlight or the thick-furred gloom,
In tempest or the night of nightingales,
To turn the cross-roads to a ghostly room …
By Edward Thomas
108. Espen tree
Espen tree, espen tree, I prithee – To shak an shiver insted o’ me.” (Folk Magic of the Northern Counties- Chapter V – Henderson 1879).
109. The Popular Poplar Tree
When the great wind sets things whirling
And rattles the window panes,
And blows the dust in giants
and dragons tossing their manes;
When the willows have waves like water,
And children are shouting with glee;
When the pines are alive and the larches,—
Then hurrah for you and me,
In the tip o’ the top’ o the top o’ the tip of
the popular poplar tree!
Don’t talk about Jack and the Beanstalk—
He did not climb half so high!
And Alice in all her travels
Was never so near the sky!
Only the swallow, a-skimming
The storm-cloud over the lea,
Knows how it feels to be flying—
When the gusts come strong and free—
In the tip o’ the top’ o the top o’ the tip of
the popular poplar tree!
Blanch Willis Howard
110. A poem by Andrew Blakemore
Against the sky of palest blue
The poplar trees stood straight and tall,
And towered above the rooftops
Casting shadows down beneath.
A cooling breeze caressed their twigs
Which soon would wear a cloak of green,
For summer days were drawing near
That urged the sap to rise.
Within the crowns that lay so bare
A group of crows did try to gain,
The highest point of status
As they squabbled and they fought.
Their raucous calls and flapping wings
Disturbed the silence of the morn,
Until they found their rightful place
And arguments ageed.
Against the sky of palest blue
Their sillhouettes as black as night,
So still they perched amongst the boughs
Upon the poplar trees.
By ANDREW BLAKEMORE
111. Barnes (1879) poems of rural life in the Dorset dialect
THE LINDEN ON THE LAWN.
There yonder poplar trees do plaÿ
Soft music, as their heads do swaÿ,
While wind, a-rustlèn soft or loud,
Do stream ageän their lofty sh’oud;
An’ seem to heal the ranklèn zore
My mind do meet wi’ out o’ door,
When I’ve a-bore, in downcast mood,
Zome evil where I look’d vor good.
O’ they two poplars that do rise
So high avore our naïghbours’ eyes,
A-zet by gramfer, hand by hand,
Wi’ grammer, in their bit o’ land;
The woone upon the western zide
Wer his, an’ woone wer grammer’s pride,
An’ since they died, we all do teäke
Mwore ceäre o’m vor the wold vo’k’s seäke.
An’ there, wi’ stems a-growèn tall
Avore the houses mossy wall,
The while the moon ha’ slowly past
The leafy window, they’ve a-cast
Their sheädes ’ithin the window peäne;
While childern have a-grown to men,
An’ then ageän ha’ left their beds,
To bear their childern’s heavy heads.
112. The poplar field by William Cowper
113. Tree of Liberty
“Tree of Liberty: A tree set up by the people, hung with flags and devices, and crowned with a cap of liberty. The Americans of the United States planted poplars and other trees during the war of independence, “as symbols of growing freedom.” The Jacobins in Paris planted their first tree of liberty in 1790. The symbols used in France to decorate their trees of liberty were tricoloured ribbons, circles to indicate unity, triangles to signify equality, and a cap of liberty. Trees of liberty were planted by the Italians in the revolution of 1848.”
– E. Cobham Brewer, The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1894
* References are provided within the texts where required.
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