Balsam poplar twigs are red-gray to brown and the bark is gray-green and smooth that becomes grayer with age and produced flat scaly ridges. This tree’s leaves are 3-6” long and ovate with a pointed tip. The edges of the leaves are finely serrated. The leaf coloration is a shiny dark green on the upper side and white on the lower side with rusty-colored veins. The buds, one of balsam poplar’s most distinctive features, are large and pointed. They are also gummy, and sometimes release a red resin that gives off that distinctly known balsam smell. Balsam poplar seeds are carried in the wind by cottony tufts of hair and can be seen floating around early in the summer. The flowers are small, inconspicuous, greenish-yellow, and in long hanging clusters.
Balsam poplar grows best in moist sandy loam or loam soils that are slightly acidic. They can be found growing in valleys, stream banks, flood plains, and sandbars. River valleys and moist low lying ground
This tree is ornamental, edible & medicinal. The resin found on buds can be flammable, so the twigs and buds can be used as a fire starter. Streaked with brown and grey, the wood is valued for carving and other uses. The wood is also used as pulpwood as well as used for boxes, crates and plywood because of it being lightweight.
The juicy, sweet inner bark can be eaten in spring and early summer when the sap is running. It rips off in long thick strips. It spoils fast so it needs to be eaten immediately or preserved in fat. The spring sap and young catkins are also edible. The inner bark is rich in vitamin C. The wood chips can be used to smoke fish.
Common usage includes the sticky buds harvested around late winter/early spring for the balsam-fir smelling resin. It’s used in cough medicines and in pain-relieving balms. Poplar has salicin derivatives for pain relief properties.
The bitter bark has also been chewed to relieve colds, and historically used in teas for TB and whooping cough.
Their leaves are astringent and leaf poultices can been applied to bruises, sores, and aching muscles. Its bark ashes have been used in skin poultices too.
Beavers use the wood and twigs from the tree to build their lodges. Bees use the resin from the buds to seal cracks and disinfect their hives. The resin also attracts butterflies and birds.