Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Harris, Holly T. 1990. Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : POPBALB POPBAL SYNONYMS : Populus candicans Populus michauxii Populus tacamahaca SCS PLANT CODE : POBAB2 COMMON NAMES : balsam poplar TAXONOMY : The scientific name of balsam poplar is Populus balsamifera L. subsp. balsamifera. Black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera subsp. trichocarpa) is the other subspecies of Populus balsamifera [101]. For information on black cottonwood, see that FEIS review. Balsam poplar hybridizes with black cottonwood in Alaska, where ranges of the two trees overlap [101]. It also hybridizes with narrowleaf cottonwood (P. angustifolia) [35,61], eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides) [35,61], and rarely with aspen (P. tremuloides) [61,101]. LIFE FORM : Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : The South Dakota Natural Heritage Program lists balsam poplar as uncommon in the state [114].


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Balsam poplar occurs mainly in riparian areas of boreal and montane conifer forests [35].  Its distribution extends from Alaska across most of Canada to Labrador and Newfoundland [93,101].  In British Columbia it is restricted to areas east of the Rocky Mountains [8,36].  Balsam poplar is rare in the northwestern United States, with sketchy records of its existence in Idaho and Oregon [32].  It occurs sparingly in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado [25,26,27,35,36,37,105,106] and extends east through the northern Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast.  It is found along creekbanks, moist hillsides, sandhill potholes, and knolls in North and South Dakota [93]. North and east of the Great Plains, balsam poplar forms extensive floodplain forests [35].  New York [32] and West Virginia [61,101] are alternately reported as the southern extreme for this tree in the eastern United States. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES10  White - red - jack pine    FRES11  Spruce - fir    FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood    FRES19  Aspen - birch    FRES20  Douglas-fir    FRES21  Ponderosa pine    FRES23  Fir - spruce    FRES28  Western hardwoods    FRES38  Plains grasslands    FRES39  Prairie STATES :      AK  CO  CT  DE  ID  IL  IN  IA  ME  MD      MA  MI  MN  MT  NE  NH  NJ  NY  ND  OH      OR  PA  RI  SD  TN  UT  VT  VA  WV  WI      WY  AB  BC  LB  MB  NB  NF  NT  NS  ON      PE  PQ  SK  YT BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     8  Northern Rocky Mountains     9  Middle Rocky Mountains    10  Wyoming Basin    11  Southern Rocky Mountains    14  Great Plains    15  Black Hills Uplift    16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K012  Douglas-fir forest    K015  Western spruce - fir forest    K016  Eastern ponderosa forest    K017  Black Hills pine forest    K018  Pine - Douglas-fir forest    K063  Foothills prairie    K064  Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass    K066  Wheatgrass - needlegrass    K067  Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass    K074  Bluestem prairie    K081  Oak savanna    K093  Great Lakes spruce - fir forest    K094  Conifer bog    K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest    K098  Northern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES :    Eastern Forest Cover Types:      1  Jack pine      5  Balsam fir     38  Tamarack     16  Aspen     33  Red spruce - balsam fir     37  Northern white cedar     39  Black ash - American elm - red maple       Western Forest Cover Types:    201  White spruce    202  White spruce - paper birch    203  Balsam poplar    251  White spruce - aspen    252  Paper birch    253  Black spruce - white spruce    206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir    217  Aspen    222  Black cottonwood - willow    235  Cottonwood - willow SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Balsam poplar is a seral species that occurs primarily in ecotones between boreal forest and tundra or prairie, and along streams and rivers.  It is most common in white spruce (Picea glauca) forests of Canada but can extend beyond the conifer treeline in western Canada and Alaska [63].  Classifications including balsam poplar as a dominant component in community types (cts), plant associations (pas), or ecosystem associations (eas) are listed below. Area                  Classification            Authority Alaska                general veg. pas          Viereck 1989                       general veg. cts          Viereck and Dyrness 1980                       postfire forest cts       Foote 1983 British Columbia      general veg. eas          Pojar & others 1984 Alberta               general veg. cts          Dirschl & others 1974 wc Alberta            forest cts                Corns 1983    Ontario               forest eas                Jones & others 1983 Canada                general veg. pas          Roi 1967                          boreal forests


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE : Balsam poplar is considered a commercial tree in the northern Lake States, with biomass yields ranging from 1 pound per acre (1.12 kg/ha) in paper birch (Betula papyrifera) communities to 116 pounds per acre (129 kg/ha) in white spruce communities of Michigan [92].  Biomass yields in Alaska average 2.2 pounds per acre (2.5 kg/ha) [95].  Poplars (Populus spp.) represent a substantial yet relatively unused forest resource in Canada [46,50].  Annual harvest of balsam poplar in Canada is less than 1 percent of the allowable cut [46]. Balsam poplar is used for pulpwood, lumber and veneer, and to make high-grade paper and particle board [32].  It is also used to make boxes and crates [101]. IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Balsam poplar parklands characterized by fescue (Festuca spp.) or other grass understories have a high grazing capacity [16]. Boreal forests containing balsam poplar support a wide variety of wildlife including moose, elk, Stone's sheep, mountain goat, mountain caribou, mule deer, wolf, coyote, black bear, grizzly bear, lynx, snowshoe hare, wolverine, pine marten, and beaver [78]. Moose [20,63,64,67,71,79,109], deer [63,71], and snowshoe hare [13,47,108] eat balsam poplar to a small extent.  Voles may damage cottonwoods by eating the roots [63]. Beavers use balsam poplar for food and building materials.  Beaver activity creates additional habitat for birds and other aquatic furbearers [63]. PALATABILITY : Balsam poplar is commonly browsed by moose in small amounts [20,71,79]. It was rated as the least preferred moose browse species in Alaska and Canada, usually comprising less than 1 percent of moose diets [20,64,79,109].  Bark stripping occurs on balsam poplars by moose in times of winter food shortage [67].  Balsam poplars with more than 50 percent of the trunk circumference debarked have a high probability of dying; new bark may grow back on less damaged trees [67]. Snowshoe hares utilize balsam poplar in times of food shortage. Snowshoe hares ignore first year growth of juvenile balsam poplars but ring the bark of mature trees and eat the twigs when within reach [47]. Apparently 2,4,6-trihydroxydihydrochalcon 1, a chemical antifeedant for hares, is present in juvenile balsam poplars [47].  Balsam poplar growing in the shade of thinleaf alder (Alnus incana spp. tenuifolia) is more palatable to snowshoe hares than balsam poplars growing in well-insulated willow thickets, due to differences in states of carbon stress and amounts of phenolic concentrations in the poplars [13]. The degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for balsam poplar in several western states is rated as follows [24].                             WY         ND        MT Cattle                     ----       fair      ---- Sheep                      ----       fair      ---- Horses                     ----       fair      ---- Pronghorn                  poor       ----      ----                         Elk                        fair       ----      ---- Mule deer                  fair       ----      poor White-tailed deer          fair       poor      poor Small mammals              good       ----      ---- Small nongame birds        fair       ----      ---- Upland game birds          poor       poor      ---- Waterfowl                  poor       ----      ----  NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : The degree to which balsam poplar provides environmental protection during one or more seasons for wildlife species is as follows [24]:                             WY         MT        ND Pronghorn                  poor       ----      ---- Elk                        good       ----      ---- Mule deer                  good       poor      ---- White-tailed deer          good       fair      good Small mammals              ----       good      poor Small nongame birds        good       fair      fair Upland game birds          good       fair      fair Waterfowl                  poor       ----      ---- VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Balsam poplar is an important riparian species which stabilizes river banks and maintains river islands [36].  It is able to recolonize sites disturbed by fire or logging [36,57]. Balsam poplar is successful at naturally colonizing borrow pits in continental tundra regions of northwestern Canada [54].  This tree was found growing on six separate abandoned coal mine sites in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta [87].  It has also been documented as invading and expanding on mining spoils in northern Minnesota [57]. Balsam poplars artificially planted in a heavily burned black spruce area had the highest survival rate of all seeded species [112].  Balsam poplar does not naturally colonize black spruce sites after fire [17,97]. Information on greenhouse propagation and plantation establishment of balsam poplars is available [22,39,43,63,88]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Balsam poplar is an important stabilizer of riverbanks and river islands [36]; it also provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. For these reasons balsam poplar growing in stream corridors should not be logged extensively [69]. See black cottonwood for further information on the effects of watercourse damming and stream diversion on balsam and other cottonwoods. Mechanical logging places balsam poplar at a competitive advantage over spruce by creating microsites for seedling establishment [11].  Exposure of mineral soil favors balsam poplar seed germination [36].  Cutting mature balsam poplars results in sprouting from callus tissue and dormant buds [36].  Stump sprouting is most pronounced on winter logged areas.  Improper harvesting can cause poplars to be suppressed, with shrubs dominating the clearings [46].  Trees cut in the summer have few surviving sprouts after four years [36].  Decay is a limiting factor in balsam poplar utilization [94], but with proper management practices, it could become a very important crop tree in Canada [94]. Balsam poplar has an allelopathic effect on green alder (Alnus viridis spp. crispa) [36].   Balsam poplar can be controlled by 2,4-D + picloram [103], glyphosate, and hexazinone [36], and has an intermediate reaction to 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T [73].  This tree is very sensitive to sulfur dioxide fumigation caused by landfill fires [44].  In an area less than 10 acres (4 ha) away from one such fire, many balsam poplars were killed. Diseases and insect pests of balsam poplar have been discussed by several authors [21,32].


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Balsam poplar is a medium to large native deciduous tree.  Heights of mature trees range from 30 to 100 feet (9-30 m) and trunk diameters from 4 inches to 2 feet (10-60 cm) [101].  The trunk of balsam poplar is straight and cylindrical with an open crown of a few stout ascending branches [63].  The bark is smooth and light gray to grayish brown but furrows with age [22]. Winter buds are 1 inch long (2.5 cm) with sticky resin and a pungent balsam odor in the spring [101].  Drooping pistillate and staminate catkins occur on separate trees.  Leaves are ovate or broadly lanceolate, 2.25 to 4.5 inches long (6-11 cm) and 1.5 to 3 inches wide (4-7.5 cm) [101].  Leaves are shiny green above and pale green below with finely toothed margins [22]. Roots are shallow, especially on wet soil types or shallow permafrost [36].  RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Balsam poplar reproduces both sexually and vegetatively. Seed production and dispersal:  Balsam poplar flower production begins at about 8 years of age, with a good seed crop produced every year [36]. Most seeds are wind dispersed and fall within 650 feet (200 m) of the parent tree [36].  Seeds remain viable for 2 to 4 weeks [57,63] but will germinate immediately following arrival on a suitable seedbed of exposed, moist mineral soil [57].  A 98 to 100 percent germination rate was obtained in 2 to 3 days at temperatures ranging from 41 to 77 degrees F (5-25 degrees C) in a greenhouse study [110].  Seedlings require 1 month of abundant moisture to survive [36]. Vegetative reproduction:  Balsam poplar is capable of regenerating from root suckers, stump sprouts, stem sprouts, and buried branches [36,57]. Root suckering is thought to be primarily a means of expansion rather than a means of recovery following clearcutting or fire [57].  Once established on more mesic sites, balsam poplar will expand onto drier, sandier sites adjacent to river floodplains through vegetative expansion [57].  Most root suckers grow from roots about 0.4 inches (1 cm) in diameter within the top 0.8 inches (2 cm) of soil [36].  Suckering is most common when the organic layer has been removed, exposing mineral soil [36].  Root suckering activity may increase when soil is disturbed or when the overstory is removed, thus allowing warmer soil temperatures [36].  Balsam poplar suckers are larger than those of eastern and narrowleaf cottonwood and are more vigorous than aspen suckers [88]. Cut stumps produce sprouts from callus tissue and from dormant buds [36].  Branches must be well buried to produce aerial shoots [36].  Stem sprouting effectively aids recovery after destructive flooding in which the main stem is broken or bent over [57].  Plant fragments washed downstream may be a means of colonization for balsam poplar [57].  In such cases sprouts can form on either root or shoot segments, leading to the formation of new roots and establishment of a new plant. Stands of balsam poplar are often polyclonal, with several genotypes and their sprouts making up a stand [41]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Balsam poplar generally occurs on moist sites, such as river floodplains, stream and lake shores, moist depressions, and swamps, but will also grow on drier sites [9,22,63,111].  It commonly grows in moist forests, such as white and black spruce (Picea mariana) forests of the boreal zone, and is found in the forest-tundra transition zone in Canada [63,68].  Balsam poplar can be found growing beyond the coniferous tree line along rivers and on southern slopes having less permafrost than the surroundings [63,97]. Common associated species of balsam poplar include the following: Canada and Alaska: white spruce, black spruce, blue spruce (Picea pungens), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), jack pine (P. banksiana), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), tamarack (Larix laricina), black cottonwood, paper birch, aspen, alders (Alnus spp.), willows (Salix spp.), currant, (Ribes spp.), red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) [16,19,36,55,56,63,74,77,80,99]. Minnesota:  balsam fir (Abies balsamea), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), American elm (Ulmus americana), red maple (Acer rubrum), aspen, and bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) [14]. Glacial moraines in the northern boreal forest commonly support stands of balsam poplars.  Permafrost may occur discontinuously in these areas [66].  Typical soils where balsam poplar is found are those of alluvial floodplains, including gravel, deep sand, clay loam, silt, and silty loam [24,36].  Abundant soil moisture is needed, but stagnant brackish water is intolerable to this tree [36].  Balsam poplar has high nutrient requirements; it needs a good supply of calcium and magnesium.  It does not tolerate acidic deep peats and humic soils in which nutrients are released slowly [36]. Climates in which balsam poplars grow range from arctic to temperate but most commonly are boreal.  Average temperatures in British Columbia boreal forests are below 26 degrees F (-3 degrees C) in the coolest month and around 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) in the warmest month [36]. Mean annual precipitation is 177 inches (452 cm); about one-third is in the form of snow [65]. Elevational ranges for balsam poplar are reported as follows:                         feet          meters      reference Alaska               0 -  3500        0 - 1067     [101] British Columbia     0 -  5400        0 - 1650     [36] Colorado          6000 - 12000     1800 - 3700     [24] Wyoming           3500 -  9000     1067 - 2740     [24] Montana                   5500            1675     [24] Utah                      4300            1310     [24] SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Balsam poplar is a pioneer species which invades disturbed wet sites by seeding or suckering [22].  It is among the fastest growing trees in temperate latitudes [22,101].  Rapid early growth allows it to establish and dominate for up to 100 years; it has lived up to 200 years in Alaska [36,75] but is considered more short-lived in southern areas. Balsam poplar is highly flood tolerant [36] and is able to form adventitious roots within a few days of a flood [58].  It showed no noticeable injury from 2 months of flooding in several different areas of Minnesota [1].  Balsam poplar is a seral species, eventually shaded out by other hardwoods or by conifers [14,22].  In Minnesota it is commonly found in transition zones between prairie and conifer forest [14], and it is found in the transition zone between boreal forest and tundra in far northern latitudes [63]. Balsam poplar occurs on both dry and wet sites, with different factors controlling succession on these different sites.  Dry sites such as south slopes or coarse alluvium supporting balsam poplar are affected to a great degree by fire [75,96,97].  Fire is a major factor controlling succession in northern montane boreal forests [78].  Repeated wildfires have led to the development of balsam poplar- and aspen-dominated stands within white spruce forests [78] and retards white spruce replacement [63].  Fire will stimulate balsam poplar to root sucker and increase in density where it is present in any successional stage [36].  This tree has an explosive recovery rate after even severe fires [53]. Fire is uncommon [40,77] and plays no apparent role in succession of alluvial floodplain sites in boreal forests [75].  Flood or other soil disturbances allow colonization by willows, alders, and balsam poplars, with balsam poplar eventually overtopping the other species and dominating for up to 100 years [10,76,99].  Eventually white spruce overtops the poplar and matures as an even-aged white spruce forest. Conversion from balsam poplar to white spruce usually occurs within 120 to 150 years unless an inadequate white spruce seed source exists or severe flooding recurs [97].  These white spruce stands eventually become uneven-aged and permafrost may develop due to a lack of sunlight penetrating through to the soil.  Permafrost development will lead to replacement by black spruce and tamarack.  Balsam poplar is occasionally reported to occur in black spruce forests [17,48,49] but does not persist. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Balsam poplar flowers bloom and seeds disperse before leaves completely emerge [36,101].  Bloom and seed dispersal dates in several geographic areas are as follows:                          flowers bloom    seeds disperse Alaska [57,101]           May-June          June         British Columbia [36]     April-June        May-June     CO, MT, ND [24]           April-May Lake States, Maine &      April-May         May-July   Nebraska [32]


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Balsam poplar is considered one of the tree species most well adapted to fire in the northern boreal forest [36].  Its ability to produce sprouts from roots, stumps, and buried branches enables it to quickly recover after fire [74].  The bark of older balsam poplars can be up to 4 inches (10 cm) thick at the base, affording fire protection [32]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this taxon may occur by entering the plant name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex    off-site colonizer; seed carried by wind; postfire years 1 and 2


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Severe fires kill balsam poplars [53]; however, underground parts survive in moist soils [111].  Moderate fires may top-kill some trees; light fires usually do not harm mature balsam poplars [53].  Young trees may be top-killed because of their thin bark [16].  Repeated burning may permanently exclude balsam poplars [16]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Balsam poplar is stimulated to produce root suckers within several weeks following fire [36,38].  Active recovery is likely to begin 1 year after fire; balsam poplar increased in cover and frequency after 1 year on a severely burned site in Alberta [53]:                  cover   frequency      prefire      .4 %       5 %      postfire    3.2 %      33 % Most balsam poplar suckering occurred in the second season after a spring burn in a 15-year-old stand in Alberta, and after 5 years poplar density was greater on burned areas than before the fire [4]. Two years after logging and broadcast slash burning in a floodplain white spruce area, white spruce seedlings were outnumbered and overtopped by hardwood seedlings, including balsam poplar [28].  Soil temperatures on these sites were doubled, which encourages vegetative expansion by balsam poplar [36,86]. See black cottonwood for further information on sprouting response of balsam and other cottonwoods. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : For information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of many plant species, including balsam poplar, see Hamilton's Research Papers (Hamilton 2006a, Hamilton 2006b) and this Research Project Summary: FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Prescribed burning for wildlife:  Fire-induced poplar and willow sprouting can increase forage for moose [67].  Beaver also benefit from an increased supply of poplar sprouts following fire [83].  Repeatedly burning white spruce forests and balsam poplar stands can convert large areas into grasslands used by elk and Stone's sheep [90].  Cyclic burns (every 10 years) are needed to maintain sedge (Carex spp.) grasslands that would otherwise be taken over by shrubs and deciduous trees, including balsam poplar; sedges are the main food item for bison in northern latitudes [15].  Wood Buffalo National Park, a large bison preserve in Canada, is characterized by extensive areas of white spruce and mixed hardwoods, and extensive sedge meadows.  Natural fire cycles here have been estimated to be 50 years [40]. Fire control has had little or no impact in most of the far northern boreal forest and natural lightning-caused fire regimes prevail [40]. Estimated fire intervals of white spruce stands vary from 80 years on morainic uplands to 300 years in floodplain stands [40].  Closed white spruce forests of interior Alaska tend to have either high intensity crown fires or severe surface fires which kill and regenerate entire stands [40].  Balsam poplar present in white spruce stands will recover rapidly after fire [78].  White spruce replacement may be retarded with cyclic fires [63]. Balsam poplar easily colonizes large burn areas due to seed dispersal distances and its ability to regenerate vegetatively.  White spruce may be more successful at reestablishing small burns [96].


SPECIES: Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera
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