Keeping the Poplars Straight
Many woods, good for many different things
Synopsis: The name poplar, or popple, as it’s sometimes known, is applied to many different kinds of lumber in various regions of the country. There are some dozen or more species belonging to four genera in two totally separate botanical families. The best clue to the wood’s identity may be the part of the country it came from. In this article, Jon W. Arno explains the differences between the magnolia family woods vs. willows and true poplars, which include aspens and cottonwoods. He discusses price and availability and shares brief lumber characteristics.
From Fine Woodworking #41
To be told at the lumberyard that the board you are about to buy is poplar may be only slightly more helpful than to be assured that it is wood. The name poplar and the backwoods corruption of this term, popple, are applied to many different kinds of lumber in various regions of the country. Embroiled in the confusion are some dozen or more species belonging to four genera in two totally separate botanical families: the magnolia family, Magnoliaceae, and the willow family, Salicaceae, as shown in the chart on p. 64. Your lumber dealer probably doesn’t know which species he has— to some extent he’s at the mercy of the mill from which he buys his wood. The best clue to the wood’s identity may be the part of the country it came from.
My first exposure to poplar came several years ago when I purchased a few board feet from a mail-order house. It was absolutely beautiful stock, arriving in nice wide boards with almost pure white sapwood and an olive-green heartwood streaked with chocolate brown. Some time later I ran across poplar advertised at an unbelievably low price from another mail-order house and I bought in quantity. Alas,…