Bringing back the Black Poplar


Tower Hamlets Council has planted rare Black Poplars in its parks this winter, as part of the implementation of the new Local Biodiversity Action Plan. Seventeen small Black Poplars have been planted during January and February in Victoria Park, Meath Gardens (photo bottom left), Black PoplarTower Hamlets Cemetery Park and Weavers Woodland Walk (photo above).

The Black Poplar is Britain’s rarest native timber tree, yet it was once so abundant in marshy pastures beside the Thames that it gave its name to Poplar district. There are now just a handful of mature Black Poplars in Tower Hamlets, most of them in Victoria Park. There are also two in Meath Gardens (photo left) and singles in St Anne’s Churchyard, Limehouse, and on the campus of Queen Mary University. The biodiversity partnership has been trying to reverse this trend by planting Black Poplars since 2012, with Mayor Lutfur Rahman planting one in Trinity Gardens last year. There is a target in the Local Biodiversity Action Plan to plant at least 25, of which these 17 are the first batch, by 2019.

Black poplar saplingFor a number of reasons, Black Poplars no longer reproduce naturally in Britain. So to conserve this species and increase its population, planting is the only alternative. Genetic tests have shown that the vast majority of Black Poplars in Britain belong to just a handful of genetically identical “clones”, indicating that they were planted from cuttings from just a few trees. To preserve the genetic variety of Britain’s Black Poplars, it is important to select cuttings from the less common clones for planting. A group of ancient poplars along the Thames around Richmond, all over 200 years old, are each genetically unique, suggesting they represent perhaps the last relict natural population of Black Poplars in the country. The poplars we have planted this winter include cuttings from 16 of these Richmond trees. The seventeenth is a cutting from another genetically unique tree from further up the Thames in Oxfordshire.

Further Black Poplars will be planted over the next few years, to ensure that this iconic tree, with its historical link to our borough, remains part of the landscape of Tower Hamlets for future generations.

All photos by John Archer


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