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Manchester Poplar

Submitted by on August 26, 2011 – 4:43 pm3 Comments

Manchester Poplar tree in St Johns gardens, Manchester.Trees give us oxygen, they don’t ask for a penny in exchange. Trees by their very nature cannot be Tories. They also can block out noise and give a free home to hundreds of other living things. That is not earth shattering news but did you know that we have our very own tree? It is a subspecies of the Populus nigra, the black poplar tree. The Manchester tree is a male clone of the black poplar subspecies betulifolia.

The Manchester Poplar is a medium to large sized deciduous tree, which means its leaves fall off in Autumn, it grows to about 20 to 40 metres tall and its trunk can be as big as 1.5 metres in diameter, with grey-brown bark that is thick and furrowed, often with heavy burrs. The trunk is usually heavily leaning. Most trees have a tendency to grow upwards, given the right conditions, but our tree grows leaning over to the side. Too much ale? Would rather be lying down than standing up? Attempting to avoid the Hector?

The leaves of our beautiful tree are diamond-shaped, broad, with veins and shoots finely downy and green on both sides. Its flowers are catkins and it is pollinated by wind dispersal. This tree is so Mancunian, it gives its love freely on the wind, diamond leaves and catkin flowers, how romantic is that?

Now this is the weird bit, it has a male and female tree. For the Manchester Poplar to be pollinated a male and female tree have to be near each other. The female tree produces an abundance of fluffy white flowers that have the appearance of soft cotton wool. The pollen from both trees is blown by the wind, or maybe a giant dyson, between the male and female tree and baby Manchester Poplar trees are reproduced.

But sadly, people objected to the female flowers falling on the streets, in their gardens, on their cars and on your ever so carefully tended lawns and over time the female Manchester Poplar tree was either cut down (boo hiss) or just not planted. Leaving many a Manchester male poplar standing lonely as a tree.

The Manchester Poplar is exceptionally suited to Manchester, it needs copious amounts of water and thrives in pollution. In the 1930s as part of the Government’s programme to regenerate the economy and jobs, it joined up with local authorities and one of the schemes was to employ local men to take a score of tree saplings and a planting rod, send them off on a bike and get them to plant the trees in suitable places. In Manchester, our young men were given the task of planting our very own Manchester Poplar. Many of the Manchester Poplars that you find around the city and in our parks were planted in the 1930s, therefore it could have been your granddad or maybe great-granddad that planted the tree.

However, like all good and noble things in modern day Britain our glorious tree is one of the rarest trees in the country. The subspecies betulifolia, which the Manchester Poplar is a derivative of, has only 7,000 known trees and only 600 female trees. And remember that our Manchester Poplar is a subgroup of betulifolia. Wikipedia also tells us that the Manchester Poplar is currently seriously threatened by Poplar Scab disease. It’s not trendy any more to plant the Manchester Poplar but let’s hope that some survive somewhere, I know for a fact that there are a few in St John’s Gardens, get down there and admire our tree before it’s too late.


  • Hadjer says:

    A wonderful little window on something I knew nothing about at all. An elegantly written and well-structured piece of writing. I particularly like the image of young men heading off in bikes with saplings and planting rods and leaving a permanent (almost) positive environmental legacy for the Manchurians of generations to come. I really hope that this wonderful tree makes a comeback in the not too distant future.

  • Elsie says:

    The Manchester Poplar is under threat due to Scab disease? You just bring everything back to Thatcher, you do…

    Thanks to Anne Beswick, Manchester tour guide, for a really interesting walk. How have I never spotted the huge-leaved catalpas on Brazenose Street before now?

  • The Real Roxanne says:

    There’s more (depressing) detail here: http://www.gmbp.org.uk/site/images/stories/pdf/BLACK%20POPLAR%20BAP15.5.08.pdf

    I’d like to think that when FC finally ‘come home’, be it in Moston or wherever, there will be the opportunity to raise a pair of Manchester Poplars as part of our ‘offer’.

    Great piece, Chris.

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