|White poplar Populus alba|
The white polar is the only native poplar of the Maltese islands. It is indigenous in southern and central Europe and to the east as far as
Central Asia. It lives in
moist habitats such as the sides of streams and rivers. In Malta it grows in valleys such as and at Wied il-Luq which is
Maltese for valley of the poplars. Chadwick Lakes
In old English the white poplar was known as ‘Abele’ from the Latin albellus meaning white. Its scientific name is Populus alba which also means white polar.
The white poplar was introduced in North America in 1748. It is widely cultivated for its wood and in some areas it is considered as an invasive species. It is an invasive species also in many parts of
Australia and in South
The tree is easily recognised. The trunk is smooth greyish-white and the leaves appear white underneath. The white colour is a result of whitish-grey hair that grows on both sides of the leaves. The hair on the upper side of the leaves wears off uncovering the green surface of the leaves. That on the bottom remains on the leave until it falls off in late autumn.
In Ancient Greece the white poplar was dedicated to Hercules after he crowned himself with its branches to celebrate his victory over Cacus on Aventine Hill which was covered with white poplars. Those offering sacrifices to him bound their heads in a similar way as did those who conquered their enemies.
The white poplar is one of several species of poplars native to the Northern Hemisphere. The exact number of poplars is unknown mainly because of difficulties in distinguishing species and the existence of hybrids. It is believed that there are between twenty-five and thirty-five species.
This article was published in the Times of Malta on 7 August 2013