Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Poplar breezes

‘Poplar breezes blowing over one’s head’ is an expression that can be described but does not translate easily into English. ‘Başında kavak yelleri esiyor’ in Turkish, the expression is used to refer to youth acting irresponsibly, living an indulgent and merry life. It can also denote having unrealistic aspirations.

What gives root to the expression is the fact that poplar leaves characteristically flutter in the slightest breeze, because of their flexible flat petioles (leaf stalks). The leaves are alternate and oval or heart-shaped in outline, with finely to coarsely toothed margins (leaf edges). Shape and size of leaves may vary even on the same poplar tree.

Poplar is a deciduous tree that belongs in the family Salicaceae. There are around 35 species of poplar trees that differ in size, shape of the leaves, color of the bark and type of habitat. Poplar tree can be found throughout northern hemisphere (North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa). It is a rapid-growing but relatively short-lived tree.

Poplar grows mostly in temperate climates. It requires enough moisture, direct sunlight and soil rich in nutrients. Poplar tree is often found near the rivers, ponds and swamps.

Five types of poplar, one of which is a hybrid grow naturally in Turkey. These are: Populus alba, Populus euphratica, Populus nigra, Populus tremula, and Populus x canescens (P. alba x P. tremula). The genus name Populus, we are told, refers to the fact that the trees were often planted around public meeting places in Roman times. The Latin word for people is ‘populus’.

In her wonderful book Eating Dirt (Graystone Books, 2011), Charlotte Gill writes:

“Planting trees is the opposite of instant gratification, since you must wait for each little sapling to show its signs. There are no guarantees against failure. All over the world the task is basically the same. From eucalyptus in Brazil to the cedars in British Columbia to the teak plantations of Southeast Asia. There is something very old about the ritual, some kind of penance in the genuflection.”

The penance must come from the fact that we started by bringing down the primary forests of our world and we are still cutting more of nature than we ever let grow.

The poplar growers of Savur near Mardin in Southeastern Turkey must know what it is like to grow trees.

                                                                     Savur, Mardin-a poplar lumber yard

One of the biggest poplar forests is found in Terme, Samsun in Turkey. Poplar wood is exported to all parts of the world from Terme.

The wood of poplar is relatively soft and hence is mostly used to make cardboard boxes, crates, paper, and veneer. Due to high elasticity, poplar tree is the most important tree in the industry of snowboards. It is also used in the manufacture of musical instruments such as guitars, drums and violas.

The two well-known poplar species of Eurasia are the white and the black poplar. The white poplar (P. alba)-also known as silver poplar for its leaves which have white felted undersides-is columnar in form, reaching 30 meters in height. The black poplar (P. nigra) is long-trunked, and grows to a height of 35 meters. This poplar is endangered due to habitat destruction.

                                                           A mighty poplar resident of Istanbul

Poplars are dioecious plants. Their male and female flowers grow on separate trees and bloom in drooping catkins (pendulous unisexual flower clusters) before the leaves emerge, to facilitate wind pollination. The fruits are small thick-walled capsules that contain many minute seeds clothed in cottony tufts of silky hairs. The seeds are often released in great quantities, and the fluffy seed hairs assist in wind dispersal.
SU9749 : Poplar Catkins

                                     P. nigra                                                                               P. tremulus   and

The bark of poplar tree can be white, light green, brownish or grey in color. It can be smooth in younger trees or covered with deep ridges in old trees.

Wood of poplar trees is used for panel painting. One of the most popular paintings of all time-Mona Lisa-was painted on poplar.