Here at the Heart of England Forest, we are well known for planting only native British trees, among them the more common household names such as Oak, Alder, Cherry and Beech. Did you know that we also plant much rarer species, including the most endangered native timber tree in Britain – the Black Poplar?
A species in decline
The Black Poplar is a majestic tree that can grow up to 30 metres tall and live for as long as 200 years. It gets its name from its distinctive, gnarly bark, which although actually dark brown, often appears to be black. Once quite a common sight across Britain, a combination of government-driven agricultural policies that saw its favoured habitats along streams and hedges disappear, and a decline in the number of female trees, mean that it is now much rarer.
A balance of male and female trees is essential to ensure the survival of the Black Poplar, but the number of the latter has particularly diminished. It is estimated that there are fewer than 7,000 Black Poplars in England and Wales, of which only 600 are thought to be female. Without female trees, the Black Poplar is unable to pollinate, leading to a further decline in its overall numbers.
A place in history and folklore
Long ago, Black Poplars were considered ideal for building wooden-framed houses, as the wood is less flammable than most, and the soft timber was also used to make carts, floorboards and clogs. More recently, the wood has been used to make everything from artificial limbs to shelving, wine cases and even toys.
The Black Poplar featured heavily in the paintings of John Constable, and in folklore it was said to ‘talk’ to passing travellers as its leaves rustled and chattered in the breeze, sometimes even foretelling the onset of bad weather! It was also believed that the fallen red male catkins of the tree were Devil’s fingers, bringing bad luck to anyone who picked them up!
Black Poplars are a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the hornet, wood leopard and poplar hawk. Their catkins also supply an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, while the seeds are readily eaten by birds.
Since the Black Poplar does such a good job of supporting wildlife, we at the Heart of England Forest feel it is important to plant more of them. We have therefore planted several hundred over recent years.