Monday, October 4, 2010

Populus simonii (Chinese poplar)

Populus simonii is well known throughout the greater Cape Town area where the appearance of the profusion of decorative catkins and the delicate green of the new leaves, heralds the arrival of spring.

Although this charming tree is not indigenous, it is particularly well suited to the often difficult growing conditions in this area, especially the long, hot and dry summers as well as the gale force winds. The non suckering Chinese poplar, has a lovely, neat, rounded crown of shiny green foliage which turns bright yellow in autumn before being shed in winter. The somewhat delicate appearance of this attractive tree belies it’s extreme hardiness and ability to adapt to the most unfavourable conditions. In China, Populus simonii has been extremely successfully used for the reforestation of large areas of desert, in spite of severe winters with heavy snow and hot dry summers with searing temperatures in excess of 40 degrees as well as continuous strong winds.


Botanical Name
Populus simonii
Common Name
Chinese poplar
RSA National Tree No’


The beautiful Chinese poplar is a lovely addition to almost any type of garden as it lends interest throughout the year, changing  it’s appearance as each new season approaches. This is an excellent specimen tree on a large lawn, or showcase the wonderful uniform growth habit to it’s best advantage by creating an eye catching avenue along a driveway, or even as an effective windbreak along a fence line. As the Populus simonii is so hardy it is a perfect choice for any public area where difficult growing conditions prevail. For seaside gardens with harsh drying winds and sandy soil, Chinese poplar will reward the homeowner with fast, lush growth as well as binding the soil and offering protection for less hardy plants. Several butterfly larvae feed off this tree.


8m – 15m
2m – 6m
Growth Habit
Populus simonii is found in mountainous regions as well as low lying plains and valleys, often near rivers and streams.
The bark of young trees is smooth, white to greenish or dark grey often with conspicuous lenticles. On older trees the bark is dark grey, rough and fissured.
The ovate to lanceolate dark green leaves, are arranged spirally with a long, flattened petiole. In general the leaves on the side shoots are smaller than those on the stronger growing lead shoots. 
The flowers appear in early spring and are borne in long drooping catkins which are formed in the axils of the previous year’s leaves. The male flowers comprise a group of 4-6 stamens inserted on a disc. The filaments are short and pale yellow with oblong purple or red anthers. They are bi-celled and open longitudinally. The female flowers consist of a single celled ovary seated in a cup-shaped disc. The catkins lengthen considerably between pollination and maturity.
 The fruit consists of a green to reddish-brown valved capsule that matures in mid summer.
The numerous minute light brown seeds are surrounded by tufts of long soft hairs which aid wind dispersal.


Growing regions
Populus simonii is widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere but is particularly common in South- East China where it originates.
Growing conditions
The versatile Chinese poplar enjoys moist conditions but will do equally well in dry, sandy soils, especially if good compost and a thick mulch are added.
Best season
This hardy tree can withstand a wide range of conditions including frost and severe drought.
Populus simonii can be propagated from seed but this takes a long time. The easiest and quickest method of propagation is from soft wood cuttings that have been treated with a little growth hormone, planted in river sand and kept moist.
Growth rate
 Fast, 1m per year.


 During the renaissance in Italy, the most popular wood used for panel paintings was poplar, in fact, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is painted on a poplar panel. Most of the famous paintings by well known artists from this period are painted on poplar panels.
As a timber, poplar is used to make pallets, plywood and even matches while the pulp is used in paper making. Poplar logs are used for growing Shiitake mushrooms.


                            P.simonii Bark                                P.simonii catkins                                 P.simonii Leaves

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