Balsam Poplar and Black Cottonwood


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British Columbia Outdoor Wilderness Guide


Balsam1.Jpg
BALSAM POPLAR
Populus balsamifera

BLACK COTTONWOOD
Populus balsamifera ssp trichocarpa

  • the black cottonwood is a subspecies of the balsam poplar
  • also known as Balsam Cottonwood, Western Balsam Poplar, Tacamahec Poplar
  • the cottonwood is named for the seeds with the cottony hair that float through the air like summer snow
  • the balsam gets its name from the resin that has a sweet, balsam odour

UNIQUE FEATURES:

  • hardy, straight trunked
  • fast growing if have ample moisture and plenty of nutrients
  • of all BC's broad leafed trees the balsam poplar if the tallest
  • has a resinous fragrance from the sticky buds
  • bees use this sticky resin from the buds as a caulking material in their hives
  • a chemical produced in young twigs deters snowshoe hare from feeding on them

LOCATION:

  • Balsam Poplar: northern part of BC to east of Rockies; rare on Queen Charlotte Islands and northern outer coast of Vancouver Island
  • Black Cottonwood: west of the Rocky Mountains
  • where their ranges overlap they are often hybridized
  • prefer areas with lots of light, favour floodplains and moist upland sites

SIZE:

  • Balsam Polar: up to 25 metres in height
  • Black Cottonwood: up to 50 metres

FLOWERS:

  • male and female catkins which are found on different trees
  • male: catkins, 2 to 3 cm long; female: catkins, 8 to 20 cm long
  • produce large quantities of floating fluff (cotton) that carries the tiny seeds

FRUIT:

  • hairy capsules which release seeds covered in white, fluffy hairs

Balsam3.Gif
LEAVES:

  • thick, shiny, dark green with a pale, brown marked underside
  • 6 to 12 cm long
  • may be wedge-shaped with a pointed tip or oval
  • finely toothed
  • cottonwood has thicker, larger leaves

Balsam2.Jpg BARK:

  • when young it is smooth and yellowish-grey turning dark grey, thick and deeply grooved or furrowed as it ages

WOOD CHARACTERISTICS:

  • firewood, short, fine fibres good for paper products
USES:
  • modern - tissues, other paper products, resin covered buds often collected for their scent, the resin from the buds is used for natural health ointments
  • traditional - cottonwood: wood - canoes, sideboards for riding, cradles, firewood (the ashes were used to make a cleanser for hair and buckskin, masks; roots - rope; inner bark - soap, food; resin - adhesive
  • cottonwood and balsam buds - resin from buds used to treat sore throat , coughs etc, a balm was also made from cottonwood buds to relieve congestion
  • balsam poplar: bark - boiled as a poultice for wounds, worm medicine; inner bark - food

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Balsam Poplar and Black Cottonwood