Populus nigra ‘Italica’, or the Lombardy Poplar, is an Italian cultivar of the Black Poplar that is widely known for its distinct, vertical growth. This rapid-growing tree species is among the most dramatically tall and narrowly columnar trees to grace the British landscape.
A Lombardy Poplar tree has an extremely fast growth rate, typically reaching heights of 20-30 metres in just 15 years. Its final height can extend up to 40 metres, making it a truly impressive sight. The lifespan, however, is comparatively shorter, typically 50 to 150 years, depending on environmental conditions.
A striking characteristic of Lombardy Poplars is their branching habit, with branches almost growing upright to create a narrowly columnar or flame-shaped silhouette. This is one of the ways they significantly differ from many native English tree species, which tend to have a more rounded crown.
The leaves of the Lombardy Poplar are diamond-shaped, with a shiny, dark green upper surface and a slightly paler underside. It’s a deciduous tree, and the leaves turn a yellowish colour before dropping in the fall, adding seasonal interest.
As for its reproduction, Lombardy Poplars are male clone trees, meaning all Lombardy Poplars are males and produce male flowers or catkins. They propagate through cuttings rather than seeds, which makes cultivation control easier.
When it comes to the landscape, Lombardy Poplars are often used to provide a vertical element in garden design, which can be very striking. They’re an excellent choice for large gardens and parks, particularly when planted in groups or rows, where they can create a bold visual statement. Additionally, they are effective windbreakers due to their tall, sturdy nature and dense foliage.
Wildlife can also find shelter within the Lombardy Poplar’s tall, columnar form. Its catkins provide food for a variety of insects in the spring, and birds, such as finches and tits, utilise the seeds. Also, its broad trunk and columnar form offer nesting and roosting opportunities for various bird species.
In the UK, Lombardy Poplars have been widely planted for ornamental purposes, especially in parks and alongside roads, and can be commonly seen throughout England and Scotland. Their tolerance for a variety of soil types, including clay, has made them particularly suitable for urban areas.
Despite their foreign origins, Lombardy Poplars have become a naturalised part of the British landscape, a testament to their adaptability. However, it is worth noting that due to their size and the potential for root invasion, they are best suited to large open areas and should be planted with caution near buildings or pavements.
In a nutshell, the Lombardy Poplar is a dramatic, towering tree that can add height and structure to a garden while providing habitat and food for wildlife. Its remarkable growth rate and unique columnar form set it apart from other trees in England and make it an excellent choice for large landscapes and windbreak planting schemes.