I am Populus Nigra Betulifolia (Black Poplar)
It seems to me that just yesterday we were providing our naturally-arched boughs for houses, our fire-resistant timber for floorboards, and our paraffin-absorbing wood for matches. Mankind valued us, and we flourished.
Today, we are forgotten, and our females are actively snubbed—their attractively fluffy cotton-like seeds now deemed unfashionably messy. I heard on the wind that there might only be about 7000 of us left, with only 600 females in that number.
We are rarer than giant pandas. Remember us. We are the black poplar, or the water poplar, if you prefer, as we live in water meadows and river valleys, by streams and damp ditches. It’s true that we’ve always been a little pernickety about where we raise our young— only a bed of moist bare mud or silt will suit our seedlings, and this is becoming harder to find as fields and wetlands are drained around us.
Look for us before we’re gone. You can’t miss our lower branches that arch downwards before flicking up at the very ends. We males sport red catkins in spring to compliment the lime green ones of our females. As we age, we grow burrs, and yes, we have a tendency to lean lopsidedly, but you might too if you reach over 100. I’m nearly 250.
I’m particularly proud of our triangular leaves with a pointed tip. Even in the slightest breeze you’ll hear us fluttery-chattering away. Who are we talking to? To the beetles and moths, the bats and the owls who still cherish us, and to those men and women who might remember us helping with their arthritis, inflammation and bruises. Do you think they are listening? Do you think they will save us?
I am Populus Nigra Betulifolia. Remember my name. Please.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO find out more about our native British black poplar, visit the Woodland Trust page all about it.