The poplar tree is “any of numerous trees of north temperate regions having light soft wood and flowers borne in catkins" [thin, elongated flower clusters],” according to the thesaurus. Poplar trees are of the Populus genus, which belongs to the Salicaceae family. Types include the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) of northeastern North America; the aspen or white poplar (Populus alba); and the gray poplar (Populus canescens) and black poplar (Populus nigra), both from Europe. Poplar trees have acquired many symbolic meanings in different traditions, from ancient Greek mythology to European family crests.
On Family Crests
When incorporated on family crests, shields and coats of arms, the type of tree chosen can reflect the characteristics of a family ancestor or the land owned by the family, according to the House of Names website. In this context, a poplar tree symbolizes great strength, whether the tree is portrayed by itself or as part of a group of poplars.
There is a tree to correspond to every birthday, with meanings connected to every tree. The poplar is connected to birthdays from February 4 to 8, May 1 to 14, and August 5 to 13. Among the poplar’s connotations for these birthdays are: a decorative appearance, lack of self-confidence, loneliness, an artistic nature, organizational skills and reliability, according to the WOW Zone website.
According to the Celtic code of symbolic trees, the poplar is associated with victory, transformation and vision. These symbols come from the ancient Celtic alphabet called the Ogham, according to the Whats-Your-Sign website. This alphabet comprises 20 symbols. Each symbol links up with a particular tree, and each tree represents a quality or state. The letter "E" and the Ogham name "Edad" are linked to the poplar tree in this system.
In Mythological Terms
The poplar has numerous mythological meanings. Heracles/Hercules wore a crown of poplar leaves as he led Cerberus/Kerberos from Hades/Haides. Cerberus was the three-headed hound with the tail of a serpent, a mane of snakes and the claws of a lion. It guarded the gates of the underworld. Retrieving Cerberus was one of the 12 labors assigned to Heracles. According to legend as described on the Angelfire website, the surface of a poplar leaf is dark, forever singed by the fires of Hades. A parallel meaning is that the poplar is a tree of endurance and conquest. The poplar also means the “talking, whispering and quivering tree.”
The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is the state tree of Tennessee, adopted in 1947. It is also the state tree of Kentucky, designated in 1954 and becoming official in 1994. Although "poplar" is part of its name, this tree is actually a member of the magnolia family and is not really a poplar.