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The Unpopular Poplars: Dealing With Invasive Lombardy Poplars On Your Land

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Few species of tree can match the slender, towering elegance of a poplar, and it's no surprise that a vast array of cultivars have been developed and exported around the world for use as ornamental trees and screens. However, one cultivar, the so-called Lombardy poplar (actually a cultivar of the black poplar) has become a distinctly unwelcome sight in Australia. These poplars grow quickly and spread aggressively, posing a danger to native Australian wildlife -- however, they can also pose a danger to human beings, so if you have Lombardy poplars growing on your land, you should seriously consider having them removed.

Why should you remove Lombardy poplars?

Lombardy poplars have a number of physical characteristics that, while beneficial to the tree, can pose dangers to plants, animals and indeed yourself:

  • Suckering: The Lombardy poplars of Australia do not reproduce via seeding. Instead, new trees are grown from 'suckers', new trees which sprout from the root systems of another tree and are genetically identical. A combination of rapid suckering and fast growth means that unattended land can quickly become choked with dense thickets of cloned trees, which cast shade and drain nutrients from the soil to starve native plants.
  • Viable cuttings: These tenacious trees can also reproduce in an even more bizarre way, as their fallen branches can often grow into new trees if left undisturbed. Lombardy poplars are often seen choking riverbanks because of this, as fallen branches are carried downstream to allow the tree to spread.
  • Rapid growth: Unlike many very tall trees, Lombardy poplars grow at a rapid rate and can turn from a decorative tree to a monstrous sun blocker before you even realise it. This rapid growth is not restricted to above ground -- the root systems also grow rapidly and strongly, and can cause severe damage to subterranean structures such as pipes and basements.
  • Fragility: These giants may dominate the landscape, but they tend not to do so for long. Lombardy poplars are notoriously susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and pathogens, such as canker and honey fungus, which can leave even young trees badly damaged and disfigured. This increases the likelihood of dangerous branch dropping, and can even cause older trees to fall, an incredibly dangerous prospect when it comes to such large trees. Lombardy pines are also highly vulnerable to insect and termite damage.

How should I remove Lombardy poplars?

As you can see, Lombardy poplars are generally far more trouble than they're worth, and you have a number of options when it comes to removal methods:

  • Uprooting: For small, single trees, uprooting is a viable option, but take exceptional care. Even the smallest fragment of root that might be left behind can rapidly sprout into a new tree, and particularly savage uprooting can spread numerous viable root fragments over a wide area. Take particular care to ensure you uproot every last part of the offending tree -- hiring a professional tree removal firm is the best way to ensure results. Be sure to remove any suckers that appear as soon as you spot them.
  • Felling: As weak, disease-ridden trees, Lombardy poplars do not react well to felling, and can be exhausted to the point where they cannot regrow if felled often enough, resulting in tree death. However, this can be an expensive option, particularly for larger, older trees, and permanent removal can take several years for hardier specimens. Be sure to avoid root damage that might provoke suckering.
  • Herbicides: Powerful herbicides are generally the most effective way to deal with Lombardy poplars, and should be administered into a hole bored into the stump after felling. A number of herbicides are suitable for poplar control, but you should consult with a tree specialist to help you choose the right herbicide for your needs -- for instance, riverside poplars should not be treated with many water-soluble herbicides, as they can travel through the extensive root systems and contaminate water.