The nature of things
ITS ability to hybridise with other poplars means that there’s sometimes a conundrum in identifying the British native black poplar, Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia, from others in which it has genetic interest. However, old pastoral paintings often show the burred and fissured old campaigner in its full glory. Among them, numerous of Constable’s landscapes of the Stour Valley show this mighty tree as it is too seldom seen now, towering over the water’s edge, thrusting out big, curved limbs that, in their haphazard way, have an ideal, picturesque beauty.
Such paintings pre-date the changes of land use in modern times: the draining of wet meadows and culverting of rivers have forced water-thirsty black poplars into longterm decline across England, although they’re still locally abundant and majestic in parts of Wales.
When left to its own devices on reliably wet soil, the black poplar achieves 100ft or more in height and its winter skeleton, with stout branches even at great height when not pollarded, can be seen a long way off. In
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