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Of The Poplar, Aspen, And Abele

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



1. Populus. I begin this second class (according to our former distribution) with the poplar, of which there are several kinds ; white, black, &c. (which in Candy 'tis reported bears seed) besides the aspen. The white (famous heretofore for yielding its umbram hospitalem) is the most ordinary with us, to be rais'd in abudance by every set or slip. Fence the ground as far as any old poplar-roots extend, they will furnish you with suckers innumerable, to be slipp'd from their mothers, and transplanted the very first year : But if you cut down an old tree, you shall need no other nursery. When they are young, their leaves are somewhat broader and rounder (as most other trees are) than when they grow aged. In moist and boggy places they will flourish wonderfully, so the ground be not spewing ; but especially near the margins and banks of rivers, and in low, sweet, and fertile ground ; yea, and in the dryer likewise. Also trunchions of seven or eight foot long, thrust two foot into the earth, (a hole being made with a sharp hard stake, fill'd with water, and then with fine earth pressed in, and close about them) when once rooted, may be cut at six inches above ground ; and thus placed at a yard distant, they will immediately furnish a kind of copp'ce. But in case you plant them of rooted trees, or smaller sets, fix them not so deep ; for though we bury the trunchions thus profound, yet is the root which they strike, commonly but shallow. They will make prodigious shoots in 15, or 16 years ; but then the heads must by no means be diminish'd, but the lower branches may, yet not too far up ; the foot would also be cleansed every second year. This for the white. The black poplar is frequently pollar'd when as big as one's arm, eight or nine foot from the ground, as they trim them in Italy, for their vines to serpent and twist on, and those they poll, or head every second year, sparing the middle, streight, and thrivingest shoot, and at the third year cut him also. There be yet that condemn the pruning of this poplar, as hindring their growth.

2. The shade of this tree is esteemed very wholsome in Summer, but they do not become walks, or avenues by reason of their suckers, and that they foul the ground at fall of the leaf ; but they would be planted in barren woods, and to flank places at distance, for their increase, and the glittering brightness of their foliage : The leaves are good for cattel, which must be stripp'd from the cut boughs before they are faggoted. This to be done in the decrease of October, and reserv'd in bundles for winter-fodder. The wood of white poplar is sought of the sculptor, and they saw both sorts into boards, which, where they lie dry, continue a long time. Of this material they also made shields of defence in sword and buckler-days. Dioscorides writes, that the bark chopt small, and sow'd in rills, well and richly manur'd and watered, will produce a plentiful crop of mushrooms ; or warm water, in which yest is dissolv'd, cast upon a new-cut stump : It is to be noted, that those fungi, which spring from the putrid stumps of this tree are not venenous (as of all, or most other trees they are) being gathered after the first autumnal rains. There is a poplar of a paler green, and is the properest for watry ground : 'Twill grow of trunchions from two, or eight foot long, and bringing a good lop in a short time, is by some preferr'd to willows.

For the setting of these, Mr. Cook advises the boring of the ground with a sort of auger, to prevent the stripping of the bark from the stake in planting : A foot and half deep, or more if great, (for some may be 8 or 9 foot) for pollards, cut sloping, and free of cracks at either end : Two or three inches diameter, is a competent bigness, and the earth should be ramm'd close to them.

Another expedient is, by making drains in very moist ground, two spade deep, and three foot wide, casting up the earth between the drains, sowing it the first year with oats to mellow the ground, the next Winter setting it for copp'ce, with these, any, or all the watry sorts of trees ; thus, in four or five years, you will have a handsome fell, and so successively : It is in the former author, where the charge is exactly calculated, to whom I refer the reader. I am inform'd, that in Cheshire there grow many stately and streight black poplars, which they call peplurus, that yield boards and planks of an inch and half thickness ; so fit for floaring of rooms, by some preferr'd to oak, for the whiteness and lasting, where they lie dry.

3. They have a poplar in Virginia of a very peculiar shap'd leaf, as if the point of it were cut off, which grows very well with the curious amongst us to a considerable stature. I conceive it was first brought over by John Tradescant, under the name of the tulip-tree, (from the likeness of its flower) but is not, that I find, taken much notice of in any of our herbals : I wish we had more of them ; but they are difficult to elevate at first.

4. The aspen only (which is that kind of libyca or white poplar, bearing a smaller, and more tremulous leaf, (by the French call'd la tremble or quaker) thrusts down a more searching foot, and in this like-wise differs, that he takes it ill to have his head cut off : Pliny would have short trunchions couched two foot in the ground (but first two days dried) at one foot and half distance, and then moulded over.

5. There is something a finer sort of white poplar, which the Dutch call abele, and we have of late abele much transported out of Holland : These are also best propagated of slips from the roots, the least of which will take, and may in March, at three or four years growth, be transplanted.

6. In Flanders (not in France, as a late author pretends) they have large nurseries of them, which first they plant at one foot distance, the mould light and moist, by no means clayie, in which though they may shoot up tall, yet for want of root, they never spread ; for, as I said, they must be interr'd pretty deep, not above three inches above ground ; and kept clean, by pruning them to the middle-shoot for the first two years, and so till the third or fourth. When you transplant, place them at eight, ten, or twelve foot interval : They will likewise grow of layers, and even of cuttings in very moist places. In three years, they will come to an incredible altitude ; in twelve, be as big as your middle ; and in eighteen or twenty, arrive to full perfection. A specimen of this advance we have had of an abele-tree at Sion, which being lopp'd in Febr. 1651, did by the end of October 52, produce branches as big as a man's wrist, and 17 foot in Iength ; for which celerity we may recommend them to such late builders, as seat their houses in naked and unshelter'd places, and that would put a guise of antiquity upon any new inclosure ; since by these, whilst a man is in a voyage of no long continuance, his house and lands may be so covered, as to be hardly known at his return. But as they thus increase in bulk, their value (as the Italian poplar, has taught us) advances likewise ; which after the first seven years, is annually worth twelve pence more : So as the Dutch look upon a plantation of these trees, as an ample portion for a daughter, and none of the least effects of their good husbandry ; which truly may very well be allow'd, if that calculation hold, which the late worthy 1 Knight has asserted, (who began his plantation not long since about Richmond,) that 30 pound being laid out in these plants, would render at the least ten thousand pounds in eighteen years ; every tree affording thirty plants, and every of them thirty more, after each seven year's improving twelve pence in growth, till they arrive to their acme.

7. The black poplar grows rarely with us ; it is a stronger and taller tree than the white, the leaves more dark, and not so ample. Divers stately ones of these, I remember about the banks of Po in Italy ; which flourishing near the old Eridanus (so celebrated by the poets) in which the temerarious Phaeton is said to have been precipitated, doubtless gave argument to that fiction of his sad sister's metamorphosis, and the amber of their precious tears. It was whiles I was passing down that river towards Ferrara, that I diverted my self with this story of the ingenious poet. I am told there is a mountain-poplar much propagated in Germany about Vienna, and in Bohemia, of which some trees have yielded planks of a yard in breadth ; why do we procure none of them ?

8. The best use of the poplar, and abele (which are all of them hospitable trees, for any thing thrives under their shades) is for walks and avenues about grounds which are situated low, and near the water, till coming to be very old, they are apt to grow knurry, and out of proportion. The timber is incomparable for all sorts of white wooden vessels, as trays, bowls and other turners ware ; and of especial use for the bellows-maker, because it is almost of the nature of cork, and for ship-pumps, though not very solid, yet very close, and yet light ; so as it may be us'd for the soles, as well as wooden-heels of shooes, &c. Vitruvius I. de Materia Ccedenda, reckons it among the building-timbers, qua, maxime in aedifciis sunt idoneae. Likewise to make carts, because it is exceeding light ; for vine, and hop-props, and divers vimineous works. The loppings in January are for the fire ; and therefore such as have proper grounds, may with ease, and in short time, store themselves for a considerable family, where fuel is dear : but the truth is, it burns untowardly, and rather moulders away, than maintains any solid heat. Of the twigs (with the leaves on) are made brooms. The brya, or catkins attract the bees, as do also the leaves (especially of the black) more tenacious of the meldews than most forest-trees, the oak excepted.

Of the aspen, our wood-men make hoops, fire-wood, and coals, &c. and of the bark of young trees, in some countries, it serves for candle or torch-wood.

The juice of poplar leaves, dropp'd into the ears, asswages the pain ; and the buds contus'd, and mix'd with honey, is a good collyrium for the eyes ; as the unguent to refrigerate and cause sleep.

One thing more is not to be pass'd over, of the white-poplar ; that the seeds of misselto being put into holes bored in the bark of this tree, have produced the plant : Experiment sufficient to determine that so long controverted question, concerning spontaneous and aequivocal generations. vid. D. Raii P. L. Append. p. 1918.

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