Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poplar Fluff

Would you believe, one of the most searched for pages in my 3 years of blogging is a post I did on poplar fluff about this time 2 years ago.  I think it's popularity must be due to there being little written on the topic, and in some places (like Edmonton) there is so much that it's a nuisance.  People want to know what it is, so here's the true, detailed story:

Poplar trees produce their seeds in catkins, which hang unpollinated on the trees in early spring.  Once they are pollinated, green seed capsules form (above), and when they break open the seeds are released, each carried by a tiny parachute of fluff.  This is what you see stuck in the tree, floating through the air, or lying on the ground (below).


Sometimes the fluff accumulates on the ground so thickly that it looks like snow!  Google 'poplar fluff' and choose 'Images', and you'll find pictures from cities like Calgary or Edmonton (where poplar are one of the most common shade trees), where the ground is white.  Headlines reassure residents that it is not allergenic, and in Moscow, the mayor is 'going to save the city from the fluff'!

We don't get nearly that amount of fluff here, just a little floating through the air like big snow flakes, or a bit on the ground.  Here's a full catkin covered in fluff that fell off on one of our young spruce.

If you dissect this story, you find that there is an intermediate stage of seed pods or capsules forming, shown in green above.  These develop after pollination, but they are not seeds, rather they are the containers for the much smaller seeds with their parachute of fluff.

As these capsules dry out, as they do in late June, they turn brown and split open, releasing the tiny seeds and fluff.  This is the event that brings the 'snow in June', and decorates your lawn with bits of white.

A close look shows the dry, split capsules along the catkin, and the fluff bursting out.  In comparison, a single seed with it's attached fluff is miniscule - see below.  And that's the story of the poplar fluff.


  1. I've seen fluff like this from Cottonwood trees, too. A friend who blogs from the UP has fluff and no Cottonwoods so perhaps hers is Poplar. I'll send her your site.

  2. I didn't mention the actual tree species, but this applies to all poplar species as far as I know, including cottonwood, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, and large-toothed aspen, as well as the fast-growing hybrid poplars, like the ones in our neighbour's yard. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Do the female catkins release the cotton substance even if it wasn't pollinated? I have a Quaking Aspen that has been putting out the white stuff, but i have yet to find a seed. I'm using a magnifying loop. I've even dissected some ovule pods, removing the immature fluff, and no seed there either.

  4. Really helpful - thank you. I'm writing from Norfolk, UK, where we found a line of these trees yesterday at a church flower festival, all just at the "pod" stage. Brought a twig home to check the species and this morning kitchen full of fluff! Still to work out what kind of poplar though ..

  5. How long does it last? Im shovelling out my pool!