Research Review

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Fast-Growing Poplars Provide Solutions for Both Energy and Pollution Problems

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Foresters have always sought to find trees that grow faster and bigger. But now, a targeted breeding and testing program by the Northern Research Station (NRS) of the U.S. Forest Service is producing varieties of fast-growing poplars that can meet energy needs and restore water and soil quality, as well as deliver the traditional wood products of pulp and lumber.


Forest Service Research and Development (R&D) has a long tradition of studying and improving short-rotation woody crops, with the first research projects starting in the late 1960s in the Midwest. Since then, the Northern Research Station’s program has been a leader in the region, as well as nationally and internationally. Ron Zalesny, forest geneticist at the NRS Institute for Applied Ecosystem Studies (IAES) in Rhinelander, WI, continues this legacy by testing new poplar varieties that are appropriate for many different site conditions and are tailored to specific end-uses, such as producing biomass for energy and for phytoremediation.

Poplars are able to hybridize naturally among certain taxonomic groups, as well as from planned breeding efforts. Most of the variability of poplars is at the species level, and both intra- and inter-specific hybridization have been vital tools for producing progeny that outperform either or both parents for biologically and economically important traits. Zalesny is working to refine breeding, testing, and selection protocols and is providing new poplar genotypes that are matched not only to the specific conditions where they will be planted but also to their ultimate end-uses.

View the Winter 2013 Research Review (2.3 MB PDF)

For more information contact

Jane Hodgins
Public Affairs Specialist
USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station
1992 Folwell Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108


Last modified: February 04, 2013