51. Lombardy Poplar

(Populus nigra 'Italica')

Family:  Salicaceae

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Across the street from the Architecture Building on the corner of Stevens Way and Grant Place is a large Lombardy poplar. This is a towering columnar tree whose burly trunk dates from the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Exposition. Since the tree is readily reproduced by suckers, it has become a common, well known tree in many parts of the world. It originated as a chance mutation in Lombardy, Italy in the late 1600s or early 1700s. Western Washington suits it better than about anywhere else in the United States, so we have many old, landmark specimens.

The leaves are diamond-shaped to triangular and turn a blazing golden yellow in the fall.  The bark is grey-green when young but becomes blackened and cracked with furrows, often with large burls. It can be used as a cork substitute. The root system is extensive and aggressive, so this tree should not be planted around drainage systems or close to building foundations. An extract of the shoots of this plant can be used as a rooting hormone for cuttings of other plants. In the spring when the leaves unfold the tree gives off a fragrance similar to balsam. The wood is soft, light and wooly, and not durable or highly flammable.

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