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Eastern Balsam Poplar

Populus balsamifera

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Salicaceae (Willow)
Deciduous tree
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 metres tall
Gardens, parks, riverbanks, waterside, woodland.

Red, no petals
Male flowers are catkins with 20 to 30 reddish stamens. The female drooping catkins are yellowish-green. Wind pollinated.
White cottony seeds which are dispersed long distances by the wind.
Heart-shaped, serrated, pointed leaves. The undersides of the leaves of this tree are very pale compared to the upper surfaces. The similar-looking tree, Black Poplar undersides which are only slightly paler than the upper surfaces. Eastern Balsam Poplar is rarely found in the wild in the UK.
Eastern Balsam Poplar is well-known for it's smell fragrance which comes from its sticky buds.
Other Names:
Balm of Gilead, Balsam Poplar, Balsam Poplar Cottonwood, Bam, Bamtree, Black Cottonwood, Hackmatack, Tacamahac Poplar, Tacamahaca.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Populus balsamifera, also known as the balsam poplar, is a species of deciduous tree that is native to North America. It can grow up to 30 meters tall and has a broad, spreading crown. The leaves are large, and have a glossy green upper surface and a pale, hairy underside. The bark is smooth and gray-brown in color, and the tree produces catkins that contain both male and female flowers, which appear before the leaves in early spring. The tree is known for its fast growth and ability to tolerate a wide range of soil types. It is often used as a ornamental tree in parks and gardens, for stabilizing riverbanks, for timber and also for paper production. The tree is also known for the medicinal properties of its resin, which is rich in salicylic acid and was used by native Americans as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.


The Eastern Balsam Poplar, also known as Populus balsamifera, is a tree species native to North America. It is commonly found in wetlands, along streams, and in other areas with high moisture content. This tree species is known for its unique bark, resinous buds, and pleasant aroma.

Appearance and Characteristics

Eastern Balsam Poplar is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 30 meters tall. It has a narrow, upright crown and a straight trunk that can be up to 60 cm in diameter. The bark of the tree is gray-brown and is marked with long, deep furrows.

The leaves of the Eastern Balsam Poplar are alternate, simple, and ovate-shaped. They are typically 5 to 10 cm long and have a serrated edge. The leaves are dark green in color on the top and lighter green on the bottom.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Eastern Balsam Poplar is its resinous buds. The buds are sticky and have a strong odor that resembles the scent of balsam fir. This resin has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes and as an adhesive.

Habitat and Distribution

Eastern Balsam Poplar is found across much of North America, from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to the Great Lakes and Appalachians. It typically grows in wetlands, along streams and rivers, and in other areas with high moisture content.

The tree is tolerant of flooding and is often found in riparian zones, where it helps to stabilize stream banks and prevent erosion. Eastern Balsam Poplar also provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, muskrats, and a variety of birds.


Eastern Balsam Poplar has several uses, both traditional and modern. The resinous buds of the tree have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes, including treating coughs, colds, and respiratory issues. The resin has also been used as an adhesive and in the production of varnish and other products.

The wood of Eastern Balsam Poplar is relatively soft and lightweight, making it ideal for use in construction and furniture-making. It is also commonly used for pulpwood and paper production.

Ecological Importance

Eastern Balsam Poplar plays an important ecological role in riparian ecosystems. The tree provides shade and cover for aquatic organisms, and its root system helps to stabilize stream banks and prevent erosion. The tree also contributes to the nutrient cycling of riparian zones, as fallen leaves and branches decompose and provide nutrients to the surrounding ecosystem.

Eastern Balsam Poplar is also an important food source for a variety of wildlife. Its buds, leaves, and bark are consumed by beavers, moose, deer, and other herbivores. The tree also provides habitat for a variety of birds, including woodpeckers, warblers, and vireos.

Cultural Significance

Eastern Balsam Poplar has cultural significance for many Indigenous peoples in North America. The tree has been traditionally used for a variety of purposes, including for medicine, food, and material culture. The resinous buds of the tree have been used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory issues and as a cough suppressant. The inner bark of the tree has been used as a food source during times of scarcity, and the wood has been used for building materials, tools, and other items.

In addition, the Eastern Balsam Poplar has spiritual significance for some Indigenous peoples. The tree is believed to have powerful medicinal and protective properties, and is sometimes used in traditional ceremonies.

Threats and Conservation

Eastern Balsam Poplar is generally considered to be a species of least concern, as it is widespread and abundant across much of its range. However, like many riparian species, the tree is threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Human activities such as dam construction, logging, and agricultural development can have negative impacts on riparian ecosystems and the species that depend on them, including Eastern Balsam Poplar.

Efforts are underway to protect and restore riparian ecosystems, including the planting of native tree species such as Eastern Balsam Poplar. In addition, the traditional ecological knowledge of Indigenous peoples is increasingly being recognized and incorporated into conservation efforts, helping to promote the protection and sustainable use of important species like Eastern Balsam Poplar.

Propagation and Planting

Eastern Balsam Poplar can be propagated from seed or by cuttings. Seeds can be collected in the fall and should be stored in a cool, dry place until the spring planting season. Cuttings can be taken from mature trees and should be planted in a moist, well-draining soil. Once planted, Eastern Balsam Poplar requires regular watering and protection from herbivores and other environmental stresses.

When planting Eastern Balsam Poplar in a riparian ecosystem, it is important to consider the local hydrology and other site conditions. The tree prefers moist, well-draining soils and should not be planted in areas that are prone to flooding or waterlogging. It is also important to plant the tree at an appropriate distance from streams and other water bodies, to avoid disrupting natural hydrological processes.

Economic Uses

Eastern Balsam Poplar has several economic uses, particularly in the forestry and paper industries. The wood of the tree is relatively soft and lightweight, making it ideal for pulpwood and paper production. The tree is also commonly used for lumber and other wood products, such as furniture and pallets.

In addition, the resinous buds of Eastern Balsam Poplar have been used in the production of fragrances, cosmetics, and other products. The resin contains a variety of terpenes and other compounds that give it a pleasant, balsam-like scent, making it a valuable ingredient in many consumer products.


The Eastern Balsam Poplar is a versatile and important tree species with a wide range of ecological, cultural, and economic uses. Its unique characteristics and contributions to riparian ecosystems make it a valuable resource for both wildlife and people, and efforts to protect and conserve the species are crucial for maintaining the health and diversity of North American ecosystems. Whether used for traditional medicine, paper production, or as a valuable habitat for wildlife, the Eastern Balsam Poplar is a tree species that deserves our attention and respect.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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