The balsam poplar is the northernmost North American hardwood. Other names are tacamahac, cottonwood, or heartleaf balsam poplar.
General – medium to large-sized, averaging 23 – 30 m (75 – 100 ft) high, broadleaved hardwood. Crown narrow, pyramidal with thick, ascending branches. Branchlets moderately stout, round, shiny reddy-brown, orange lenticels, buds are reddish-brown to brown, 2.5 cm (1 inch) long, curved, resinous and fragrant. Twig has a bitter aspirin taste. Trunk bark greenish gray with lighter lenticels when young, later becoming darker and furrowed with long, scaly ridges.
Leaves – alternate, simple, ovate, finely serrated, shiny dark green, paler and often blotchy orange below, petiole long with glands at the leaf base.
Flowers – dioecious, male and female as hanging, long pale yellow green catkins, appearing in May.
Fruit – small, 2-valved, dry capsule containing numerous small seeds. Capsules are a lustrous green during development but turn dull green at time of dispersal. Male flowers are shed promptly and decay; female catkins are shed shortly after dispersal is completed but remain identifiable for the remainder of the summer.
Throughout Northwestern Ontario. In the region, balsam poplar occurs on sites that are relatively rich in nutrients and less acidic, and in relatively small, localized stands, in association with black and white spruce, balsam fir and trembling aspen. In the open, subarctic woodlands, balsam poplar and white spruce form the only closed forests.
Low shrubs associated with balsam poplar include red osier dogwood, mountain maple, bracted honeysuckle, beaked hazel, red raspberry and prickly wild rose.
Some associated herbaceous plants are horsetails, bedstraws, fireweed, red baneberry, pink pyrola and wild sarsaparilla.
In mixed stands, various feathermosses and lichens may be associated with balsam poplar.
Natural stands are generally described as underutilized, but its use is increasing as hardwood utilization increases in the mixed-wood section of the boreal forest. Although the wood can be used for a variety of products (for example, pulp, veneer, core stock, boxes, crates, brackets), species such as aspen and cottonwood are preferred. Waferboard with excellent mechanical qualities can be produced from balsam poplar; however, special procedures are needed to efficiently waferize the wood. In northern areas, balsam poplar is used for structural lumber and milled house logs when other species are not available.