Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Populus nigra
(black poplar)



Populus nigra (black poplar)


  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Populus nigra
  • Preferred Common Name
  • black poplar
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. nigra is a fast-growing tree utilized for afforestation and as an ornamental in all the temperate areas of the world. As an endemic species, P. nigra can be considered on the verge of extinction in...

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Female tree (unspecified variety) with broad crown, and a male (P. nigra var. italica). Po Valley, Italy.
TitleMale and female trees
CaptionFemale tree (unspecified variety) with broad crown, and a male (P. nigra var. italica). Po Valley, Italy.
Female tree (unspecified variety) with broad crown, and a male (P. nigra var. italica). Po Valley, Italy.
Male and female treesFemale tree (unspecified variety) with broad crown, and a male (P. nigra var. italica). Po Valley, Italy.ISP
P. nigra var. nigra, Italy.
TitleMature tree
CaptionP. nigra var. nigra, Italy.
CopyrightIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
P. nigra var. nigra, Italy.
Mature treeP. nigra var. nigra, Italy.Istituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
CopyrightIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
BarkIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
CopyrightIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
FoliageIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
Different stages of development.
TitleMale catkins
CaptionDifferent stages of development.
CopyrightIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
Different stages of development.
Male catkinsDifferent stages of development.Istituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
CopyrightIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura
SeedsIstituto di Sperimentazione per la Pioppicoltura


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Populus nigra L.

Preferred Common Name

  • black poplar


  • Populus nigra var. betulifolia (Pursh) Torr.
  • Populus nigra var. caudina
  • Populus nigra var. italica (Moench.) Koehne
  • Populus nigra var. pubescens
  • Populus nigra var. thaysiana
  • Populus nigra var. thevestina (Dode) Bean
  • Populus nigra var. vistulensis

Other Scientific Names

  • Populus croatica Waldst. & Kit. ex Besser
  • Populus italica (Munchh.) Moench
  • Populus nigra subsp. pyramidalis (Rozan.) Cel.
  • Populus nigra var. pyramidalis (Rozan.) Spach
  • Populus pannonica Kit ex Besser
  • Populus sinensis (Carriere) Dode

International Common Names

  • English: Lombardy poplar
  • Spanish: álamo negro; chopo negro
  • French: peuplier d'Italie; peuplier noir

Local Common Names

  • Croatia: crne topole
  • Germany: Pyramiden- Pappel; Scharwzpappel; Schwarz- Pappel
  • Italy: pioppo italiano; pioppo nero
  • Japan: seiyo-kako-yanagi
  • Netherlands: Italiaanse populier
  • Sweden: poppel, svart-
  • Turkey: karakavak

EPPO code

  • POPNI (Populus nigra)

Summary of Invasiveness

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P. nigra is a fast-growing tree utilized for afforestation and as an ornamental in all the temperate areas of the world. As an endemic species, P. nigra can be considered on the verge of extinction in a large part of its natural range, particularly in west and central Europe, because its natural habitat is gradually being reduced by human activity and because it easily hybridizes with other species (especially P. x canadensis) and with its fastigiate form var. italica (Lombardy poplar).

It is the latter, P. nigra var. italica, which is considered an invasive or potentially invasive species in some parts of the world, including North America, South Africa and Argentina. It is considered an invasive species in very localized areas in the USA, notably around the Great Lakes region and particularly in Michigan, where it was originally planted for dune stabilization. This has led to the disruption of natural dune migration with concomitant impacts on natural habitats and biodiversity. However, as a male clone it produces no seeds so invasive spread is limited and effected by profuse suckering. Its invasiveness is also aided by cultivation as an ornamental, windbreak and landscape tree.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Salicales
  •                         Family: Salicaceae
  •                             Genus: Populus
  •                                 Species: Populus nigra

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A wide natural range and the cultivation of Populus nigra over the past centuries makes the taxonomy of the species particularly complex. There are many intermediate forms arising from spontaneous hybridization among varieties which are difficult to classify in an unequivocal way (Cagelli and Lefevre, 1995; Beringen, 1998). The classification of Asiatic varieties is still under discussion. A classification has been proposed in a review by Zsuffa (1974).

In the past, the characterization of the species was largely based on morphological features, but now molecular genetic techniques allow better discrimination of species and hybrids and probably a new and more accurate classification will be possible (Vackova et al., 1998; Heinze, 1998; Sanchez et al., 1998).


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P. nigra var. italica is a deciduous tree, with a narrow columnar crown. The trunk is straight with suckers at the base. The root system is lateral, shallow or deep, depending on soil layer and depth of water table, and can be invasive and problematical if trees are planted near buildings. The bark is more or less dark brown, thin and easily damaged.

Lombardy poplar trees are best known for their columnar (fastigiate) form and unusual vertical branching structure; branches start close to the ground and grow parallel to the trunk. Trees grow rapidly, maybe up to 1.8 m per year; they attain a final height of 12-16 m with a spread of 3-4.5 m (Beaulieu, 2015).

The leaves are rhombic, long-acuminate, the lateral edge rounded and finely crenate, not ciliate, glabrous and lighter green beneath; leaves of long shoots are 4-8 cm wide and 5-8 cm long, cuneate at the base. The leaves of shorter shoots are smaller and more or less rhomboid. Petioles are thin and flat. Leaves turn yellow in autumn.

As a male clone, P. nigra var. italica only produces staminate catkins, which are usually reddish, 4-6 cm long with 20-30 stamens.

Plant Type

Top of page Broadleaved
Vegetatively propagated


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The natural distribution of P. nigra ranges from western, central and southern Europe to West and Central Asia, reaching the Yenisei River in Siberia. It is also found in isolated localities in North Africa (FAO, 1980; Allegri, 1971).

The ornamental P. nigra var. italica originated as a single fastigiate tree in Lombardy in northern Italy in the 18th century and has been widely introduced for use as windbreaks, screens, avenue trees and landscape plantings. It can be found along roads and in parks all over the temperate regions of the world (Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and China). It has also been introduced into subtropical environments where it performs poorly.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasivePlantedReferenceNotes


AfghanistanPresentPlanted, Natural
ArmeniaPresent Natural
AzerbaijanPresent Natural
-HeilongjiangPresent Planted
-ShandongPresent Planted
-XinjiangPresent Natural
-ZhejiangPresent Planted
Georgia (Republic of)PresentPlanted, Natural
-Arunachal PradeshPresent Planted
-Himachal PradeshPresent Planted
-Jammu and KashmirPresent Planted
-Uttar PradeshPresent Planted
IranPresentPlanted, Natural
IraqPresentPlanted, Natural
IsraelPresentPlanted, Natural
JapanPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-HokkaidoPresent Planted
JordanPresent Natural
KazakhstanPresentPlanted, Natural
LebanonPresent Natural
PakistanPresentPlanted, Natural
SyriaPresentPlanted, Natural
TajikistanPresent Natural
TurkeyPresentPlanted, Natural
UzbekistanPresentPlanted, Natural


AlgeriaPresent Natural
EgyptPresent Planted
MoroccoPresentPlanted, Natural
South AfricaPresent Planted
TunisiaPresent Natural

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ManitobaPresent Natural
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaPresent Natural
-ArizonaPresent Natural
-ArkansasPresent Natural
-ConnecticutPresent Natural
-DelawarePresent Natural
-FloridaPresent Natural
-GeorgiaPresent Natural
-IllinoisPresent Natural
-IndianaPresent Natural
-IowaPresent Natural
-KansasPresent Natural
-KentuckyPresent Natural
-LouisianaPresent Natural
-MainePresent Natural
-MarylandPresent Natural
-MassachusettsPresent Natural
-MichiganPresent Natural
-MinnesotaPresent Natural
-MississippiPresent Natural
-MissouriPresent Natural
-NebraskaPresent Natural
-NevadaPresent Natural
-New HampshirePresent Natural
-New JerseyPresent Natural
-New MexicoPresent Natural
-New YorkPresent Natural
-North CarolinaPresent Natural
-North DakotaPresent Natural
-OhioPresent Natural
-OklahomaPresent Natural
-PennsylvaniaPresent Natural
-Rhode IslandPresent Natural
-South CarolinaPresent Natural
-South DakotaPresent Natural
-TennesseePresent Natural
-TexasPresent Natural
-UtahPresent Natural
-VermontPresent Natural
-VirginiaPresent Natural
-West VirginiaPresent Natural
-WisconsinPresent Natural
-WyomingPresent Natural

South America

ArgentinaPresent Planted
BoliviaPresent Natural
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ParanaPresent Planted
-Sao PauloPresent Planted
ChilePresent Planted
ColombiaPresent Natural


AlbaniaPresent Natural
AndorraPresent Natural
AustriaPresent Natural
BelarusPresent Natural
BelgiumPresent Natural
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresent Natural
BulgariaPresent Natural
CroatiaPresent Natural
CyprusPresentPlanted, Natural
Czech RepublicPresent Natural
DenmarkPresent Natural
EstoniaPresent Natural
FrancePresent Natural
-CorsicaPresent Natural
GermanyPresent Natural
GreecePresent Natural
HungaryPresentPlanted, Natural
IrelandPresent Natural
ItalyPresentPlanted, Natural
LatviaPresent Natural
LithuaniaPresent Natural
LuxembourgPresent Natural
MacedoniaPresent Natural
MoldovaPresent Natural
NetherlandsPresent Natural
PolandPresent Natural
PortugalPresent Natural
-AzoresPresent Natural
RomaniaPresentPlanted, Natural
Russian FederationPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Central RussiaPresent Natural
-Northern RussiaPresent Natural
-Southern RussiaPresent Natural
-Western SiberiaPresent Natural
San MarinoPresent Natural
SerbiaPresent Natural
SlovakiaPresent Natural
SloveniaPresent Natural
SpainPresent Natural
SwitzerlandPresent Natural
UKPresent Natural
UkrainePresent Natural


AustraliaPresent Planted
-Western AustraliaPresent Planted
New ZealandPresent Planted

History of Introduction and Spread

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P. nigra var. italicwas disseminated throughout Europe in the mid-18th century from Italy, where it was found growing on the banks of the River Po in Lombardy (Wood, 1994). Augustine Henry found evidence that it originated there between 1700 and 1720 and was rapidly spread worldwide by cuttings, reaching France in 1749, England in 1758 and North America in 1784 (Henry, 1914). It was soon widely planted in Europe as an avenue tree, as an ornamental and, for a time, for its timber. In the USA, it now occurs in all the 48 contiguous states except Idaho and Montana, as well as in several eastern and western Canadian provinces (USDA-NRCS, 2015). In colonial times, it was introduced as an ornamental to Chile and Argentina.

Some negative effects of growing Lombardy poplar have been identified in recent years, particularly in terms of impact on native vegetation, leading to its classification as a localized invasive species, for example, in southern US forest and grassland systems (University of Georgia, 2009; Miller et al., 2010), in North Dakota and in Michigan (Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, 2014). In the Upper Midwest it is classed as an invasiveness category 2 species, that is, a lesser invader of natural areas (Czarapata, 2005).

Risk of Introduction

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Lombardy poplar is still widely planted as an ornamental and landscape tree.


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P. nigra var. italica prefers to grow in full sun on well-drained, acid, neutral or alkaline soils. They tolerate wet soil but can also grow well under drought, losing leaves early in very dry summers (Gilman and Watson, 1994).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Rail / roadsides Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Coastal dunes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Principal habitat Productive/non-natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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In the USA, P. nigra var. italica is known to affect the threatened native plant species Cirsium pitcheri in the Great Lakes open dune systems, while in Argentina’s Patagonia its hybrids are replacing native Salix humboldtiana in riparian habitats.

Biology and Ecology

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P. nigra var. italica is diploid with 2n=38 chromosomes (Dickman and Kuzovkina, 2008).

Reproductive Biology

As Lombardy poplar (P. nigra. var. italica) is a natural male clone, it produces no seed. Its pollen, however, allows gene flow and intraspecific and interspecific hybridization to occur.

Physiology and Phenology

Flowering of male flowers begins when trees are 4-10 years old and occurs in early spring, before full leaf emergence. The roots are very vigorous and invasive, and can destroy land drainage systems and damage foundations.


P. nigra trees live for 200-300 years, but var. italica is much more short-lived, being susceptible to damage from a range of pests and diseases which disfigure the tree, cause branch drop and lead to eventual mortality, often succumbing within 15 years, but more often 30-50 years. Older trees become more and more susceptible to being blown over in strong winds. This rapid decline has made them unpopular nowadays with landscaping professionals (Beaulieu, 2015).

Environmental Requirements

P. nigra var. italica grows in temperate zones with a bimodal rainfall regime. To perform well it needs an average of 700 mm of rain per year, distributed in spring and autumn, and it can tolerate dry summers. In general, there is a relationship between summer temperatures and growth in locations with adequate supplies of soil moisture. In areas with heavy rainfall, it performs poorly. It can grow on chalk, sand, clay or loam soils of acid, neutral or alkaline pH.

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
64 30 0 4000

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -29
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 9 17
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 18 31
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -5 12


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration23number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall3001000mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Corynebacterium Pathogen Stems not specific
Cossus cossus Herbivore Stems not specific
Cryptodiaporthe populea Pathogen Growing point/Stems not specific
Cryptorhynchus lapathi Herbivore Stems not specific
Drepanopeziza populorum Pathogen Leaves to genus
Melampsora laricis-populina Pathogen Leaves to genus
Paranthrene dollii Herbivore Stems not specific
Plagiodera versicolora Herbivore Leaves not specific
Saperda carcharias Herbivore Leaves/Stems not specific
Venturia populina Pathogen Growing point/Leaves to genus

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

As P. nigra var. italica produces no seed, its main means of natural dispersal is by vigorous suckering.

Intentional Introduction

Lombardy poplar, although not as popular as previously, is still widely planted as an ornamental and landscape tree.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Hedges and windbreaks Yes Yes
Horticulture Yes Yes
Landscape improvement Yes Yes
Ornamental purposes Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Plants or parts of plants Yes Yes

Economic Impact

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P. nigra var. italica is a fast growing tree, grown in nurseries and utilized as an ornamental in all the temperate areas of the world.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

P. nigra var. italica is seen as a one of 27 emerging alien invasives of the alpine habitat of the Drakensberg Alpine Centre in southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho), an area which supports some 334 endemic and 595 near-endemic angiosperm species (Carbutt, 2012). In Michigan, USA, it and other non-native species were originally introduced as a result of residential development in the dune systems around the Great Lakes. This led to dune stabilization and the disruption of natural dune migration, with subsequent impacts on natural dune habitats and biodiversity (Albert, 1999). 

Impact on Biodiversity

One of the species negatively affected in the Great Lakes dune systems by the presence of P. nigra var. italica is Cirsium pitcheri (Pitcher’s thistle), listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species. In a study by the US Forest Service Manistee National Forest in Michigan, for example, the most prevalent invasive species identified were spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) and Lombardy poplar (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006b). Although the poplar’s effects on C. pitcheri habitat are unknown, thistle numbers were lower at sites with poplar compared to sites without. Although herbicide use is not permitted in these habitats, this restriction was partially lifted in the case of Lombardy poplar (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006a), as cutting down trees with chainsaws and pruning the new growth was shown to result in aggressive regrowth and the spread of suckers (O’Connell and Stephens, 2002).

In Eurasia P. nigra var. italica hybridizes as a male parent with native black poplars, thus contaminating the gene pools of threatened P. nigra populations.

In the Patagonia region of Argentina, non-native Salicaceae species, mainly Salix but also Populus taxa derived from crosses between P. nigra var. italica and other invasive poplars such as P. deltoides and P. x canadensis, are invading floodplains, displacing native tree species such as the native willow S. humboldtiana due to their more vigorous vegetative reproduction capacity (Thomas et al., 2012).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Cirsium pitcheri (Pitcher's thistle)NatureServe NatureServe; USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesMichiganCompetitionUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006b

Social Impact

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When grown in urban areas, the roots of P. nigra var. italica can damage or destroy land drainage systems and affect building foundations.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Economic Value

Natural stands of P. nigra produce low quality wood which is suitable only for local and artisan use. Plantations offer the advantage of greater wood homogeneity. The main uses are for plywood, semi-finished products for carpentry, sawn wood, packaging, pallets, wood-wool, fibreboards, particleboards and veneers (Bohme et al., 1983; Giordano, 1980). The wood is also used to make charcoal. However, the wood from var. italica has always been considered of worse quality than that of other poplars (Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1829). It is among the lightest of timbers, and used in making packing cases. Although soft, it will bear some strain without breaking. Historically in Lombardy the wood was used to make crates for grapes up until the early 19th century.

Social Benefit

Lombardy poplars are grown for decorative, shade and windbreak purposes in urban areas and in landscapes.

Environmental Services

The compact crown and fastigiate form of P. nigra var. italica make it particularly suitable for use in windbreaks and shelterbelts (Peri, 1998). It is planted as a single or double line to protect orchards and horticultural crops from winds and to reduce wind erosion of cultivated soil. It is also used to control erosion along riverbanks and roadbeds (Tatsumi, 1973; Matthei, 1997).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Agroforestry
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Shade and shelter
  • Windbreak


  • Charcoal


  • Ornamental


  • Carved material
  • Fibre
  • Miscellaneous materials
  • Wood/timber

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Wood Products

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  • Boxes
  • Cases
  • Crates
  • Pallets



  • Short-fibre pulp


  • Building poles

Sawn or hewn building timbers

  • Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
  • For light construction
  • Wall panelling

Vehicle bodies


Wood wool

Wood-based materials

  • Fibreboard
  • Improved wood
  • Particleboard
  • Plywood
  • Wood cement


  • Industrial and domestic woodware
  • Matches
  • Pencils
  • Sports equipment
  • Toys

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Its columnar habit makes P. nigra var. italica very distinctive in the landscape. Apart from its habit, var. italica is a typical P. nigra in all its other characteristics.

Prevention and Control

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Methods advocated in Canada for Lombardy poplar control by the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network (2015) include (1) girdling the tree to remove bark and phloem layer from a 10 cm band around the trunk and (2) cutting stems and applying herbicide, but this does not always eliminate suckering. Monitoring and retreatment of sites is always necessary. In Michigan’s dune system, cutting down trees with chainsaws and pruning the new growth resulted in aggressive growth and the spread of suckers and had to be supplemented with judicious use of herbicides (O’Connell and Stephens, 2002; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006a).


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24/06/15 Invasive Species Compendium sections added by:

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