Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Identity Crisis!

Guys!!! I was pretty darn sure that the other tree I'm observing for the Tree Year is a balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera). But now I'm not so sure.

I was looking closely at these pics I took last year of some branches that came down in a storm and I noticed some differences from the pictures of balsam poplar I've seen online and from the tree I've visited at the arboretum in Ottawa (I know for certain the tree in the arboretum is a balsam poplar because it has a label!)

Here's a pic of balsam poplar leaves. And another picture.

The balsam poplar leaves are quite a bit narrower than the leaves on my tree.

So I started looking at other poplar species and ruled out the obvious ones, like white poplar and quaking aspen. I ruled out the Lombardy poplar too. Then I came across the Eastern cottonwood or Populus deltoides.

Check out this pic. I think I might be on to something here.

Now, I had always just assumed my tree was a balsam poplar, because the sources talk about the distinctive and tell-tale scent of the balsam poplar being one of the ways of identifying it. I've spent enough spring days inhaling the perfumed air around the poplar trees in my park to figure I had a correct i.d., and I previously ruled out the Eastern cottonwood because I found no reference to a distinctive scent in the sources I looked at. But then today I found this reference that notes, "The buds have a resinous strong scented odor." This source limits the range to New York, but Wikipedia has the range into Southeastern Ontario and Quebec.

I guess I'll wait until the catkins and later the leaves come out on my tree and compare them with samples from the tree in the arboretum and see if I get any closer to a correct i.d. I'll go back to my guide books and try and key out exactly what species I've got. To complicate matters somewhat, I've read that balsam poplars hybridise easily on their own and by human intervention.

I'm excited to solve this mystery and I really love how this project is helping me to get to know these trees so intimately. The more I look and observe, the more I see. More questions arise, which leads to more understanding. This is so fun and satisfying.

Oh, and as always, if anyone has any insights to add, I'd love to hear them. J.G. do you think your tree lady might know what tree it is I've got?


TechChik said...

lol - just when you think you have something figured out, Mother Nature throws you a curveball... :)
I just love that there's always something new to learn about gardening, it keeps it interesting.

J.Garlough said...

Oh my. This is an interesting post to follow the "Your Backyard is a Scary Place Just Waiting to Kill You!" article.

Ma Nature certainly has her ways of keeping us (and our egos) grounded, eh?

I think this ID is one for Martha. Best you send it her way...

Anonymous said...

Looks like balsam poplar, I have many on my property near lake Erie. The eastern cotton wood has seeds that float in the air like weeds do, if you see those(very large ammount) then I am wrong