Plants: perennial tree to 80' tall; bark dark-gray and furrowed
Leaves: resinous, oval to oval-lance-like; upper side dark green, underside white
Flowers: long, light yellowish green catkin
Habitat: wet; woods, riverbanks, lakeshores
Conservation Status: Native
When young, the leaves of this species are rather shiny. The leaf undersides are strongly whitened or yellowish, often with rusty patches; they are pleasantly aromatic when fresh. The buds and twigs are reddish brown; they are yellowish brown in the sometimes co-occurring P. deltoides. The two species can hybridize to form P. × jackii Sarg. The hybrid resembles P. balsamifera but differs in having branchlets puberulent to pubescent, petioles densely pubescent, and leaf blades with cordate bases. A cultivar of this hybrid, ‘Balm-of-Gilead’, is sometimes planted. While most of our specimens of the hybrid come from cultivated trees, there are a number that were collected from wild trees in swamps, marshes, and beaches or forested bluffs along Lake Michigan. These seem to be most common in our southeastern counties but should be sought elsewhere where the two parents grow sympatrically.
Balsam poplar ranges across the northern portion of the state, dipping southeastward towards Lake Michigan and (at least historically) along its southern shore. Its status along Lake Michigan, and resulting hybridization with P. deltoides in this habitat, should be investigated. Outlying collections from southern counties west of Lake Michigan may not be native or were only waifs.