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The black poplar's natural range of distribution embraces the whole of western, central and eastern Europe, extending into Siberia as far as the Yenisei River. It grows in most soils, often alongside large rivers, mainly on sand and gravel formations. It is a large tree, attaining a height of 35 metres, with a widespreading crown. The trunk is covered with thick, furrowed, grey-black bark. The twigs and buds are yellowish. The leaves, broadly wedge-shaped at the base are arranged alternately on the twig.

The catkins flower in April and the capsules shed the downy seed in early June. The black poplar is a tree of riverine forests and requires abundant light and a high level of underground water for good growth. In commercial forests it is today being replaced by the Carolina poplar (Populus canadensis Moench.), a hybrid between the black poplar and the northern cottonwood (P. deltoides). It is distinguished by rapid growth and is cultivated in plantations. The black poplar produces abundant stump suckers and is also propagated by cuttings. The pyramidal form Populus nigra italica (syn. pyramidalis), the Lombardy poplar, is widely planted in parks and alongside highways. The light wood is used to make plywood and cellulose.