The balsam poplars are indigenous to North America
. The one most commonly cultivated in Europe
balsamifera L., a native of North America, where it grows on alluvial bottomlands in the northern United States
and in Canada
. The name is derived from the pleasant balsam smell of the opening buds and leaves. It grows to a height of 30 metres and has yellow-grey bark, thick and furrowed, and coloured blackish at the base of the trunk. The twigs are yellow-brown to brown, the buds covered with a layer of balsam resin. The flowers and fruit are very much like those of the white poplar.
The balsam poplar is a light-demanding tree that requires considerable moisture. In Europe it is cultivated mainly in parks for its ornamental, light-coloured bark and pleasant scent in spring. Planted occasionally in hill country is the western balsam poplar (Populus trichocarpa Torr. et Grey), a native of western North America. A northern Chinese poplar (Populus simonii Carr.), a native of China and Manchuria, is more frequently planted as a street and shade tree in European cities. It is an attractive ornamental, with whitish bark, and nearly rhombic, 6 to 10cm long leaves which appear on the tree in early spring.