The poplar tree is a large deciduous that grows quickly and has around 35 different species. They are native to the Northern hemisphere and are commonly found in North Africa, North America, and Western Asia.

If you’d like to know if poplar is good firewood, then keep reading. We’ll take a close look at how it compares to other popular varieties of wood.

Is poplar good for firewood?

Poplar firewood produces less heat than most popular alternatives, so it’s a better option for shoulder season firewood. It has fair coaling properties, so you’ll need to feed the fire regularly to keep it blazing. Poplar is easy to split, but the wood is notorious for soaking up water so keep it out of the rain, even after it’s seasoned.

  • Easy to split with any type of axe.
  • Good for starting fires as it burns easily.
  • Burns fast and produces low heat output.
  • May give off an acrid, bitter fragrance.
An infographic showing poplar firewood statistics

Poplar firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Checking a firewood’s heat output should usually be your first consideration. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, you want to stay warm.

Poplar outputs 13.7 million BTUs per cord which is relatively low. It is similar to basswood, buckeye, and cottonwood, which are all soft-textured wood.

The heat produced by poplar is a lot less than hickory, Osage orange, and rock elm. But it’s still suitable for burning if you’ve got logs lying around. Poplar is best for kindling or burning in the shoulder season when temperatures are still mild. You may also like to combine poplar with another slower-burning wood like oak.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of poplar to various other common types of firewood. 

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Eastern red cedar13.0
Poplar13.7
Basswood13.8
Buckeye13.8
Cottonwood15.8
Beech27.5
Bitternut hickory29.2
Rock elm32.0
Osage-orange32.9

2. Smoke

Poplar will give off moderate levels of smoke, so if you’ve got an open fire, you may not want to burn it all night. Smoke won’t be a big issue if you’ve got a wood stove or fireplace with a door.

All firewood is best seasoned before getting thrown in the fire. Wood that is green contains a lot of water and will produce a lot of smoke as it burns. Unseasoned wood is less efficient as the fire uses its energy to evaporate water rather than give off heat.

3. Ease of splitting

Poplar has soft wood and a straight grain that’s easy to split using almost any axe. To make the job easier, you can also get yourself in a splitting axe or maul.

Some people get unlucky with the poplar they fell. It may get riddled with knots, making it much harder to split. For most though, splitting is a breeze.

Remember to split poplar when it’s green so that the drying process is quicker.

4. Sparks

You may find that poplar firewood gives off a lot of sparks as it burns, a lot like mulberry. This isn’t a big issue if you own a wood stove or any type of fireplace with a door. Some people even enjoy the fireworks display!

If you have an open hearth or you’re out camping, then keep an eye on the fire. A lot of popping and sparking could result in burns to the carpet or your skin.

5. Aroma

Poplar will generally provide very little fragrance as it burns. If you’re unlucky, the wood may give off an unpleasant bitter aroma. 

Keen barbecue cooks and meat smokers will find better options for cooking their food. Better varieties include cherry, apple, hickory, and maple firewood.

6. Coaling

Wood that has excellent coaling properties will provide heat for longer. You’ll find that poplar rates in the bottom few for coaling, meaning you need to keep feeding the fire frequently through the night.

Unlike beech that’s easy to re-start the next day, poplar won’t have any smoldering coals. Instead, you’ll need to restart the fire from scratch.

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote can build up on the inside of chimneys over time. This black tar-like substance can block chimneys if left long enough.

Poplar won’t produce high levels of creosote, so long as the wood has been properly seasoned. If you’re not sure how to do this, be sure to skip down to the next section on drying your firewood.

How long does it take to season poplar?

Poplar takes six months to season in hot, dry climates and 12 months for those living in cold damp areas. If you burn firewood too soon, you’ll get a smoky fire that won’t reach its BTU heat potential.

Poplar has unique wood fibers that soak up water like a sponge. Keeping it covered is much more important than most other types of firewood. Once it’s dry, keep the wood under shelter permanently until it’s ready to burn.

Tips for seasoning poplar

If you’re in a hurry to use your new wood, speed up the drying time by following these practical tips:

  • Remove the bark: poplar has thick bark that keeps water from escaping, so remove it and use the stuff for starting fires.
  • Raise the stack: lay the poplar on pallets or bits of 2×4 to create airflow beneath.
  • Create gaps in the rows: build stacks of firewood with a 3-5” gap between each one to encourage air circulation.
  • Position correctly: speed up drying time by avoiding shady areas and facing the wood stack towards the wind.
  • Cover the wood: covering the wood is a must, especially on foggy days as it will absorb plenty of moisture.
  • Chop the wood: splitting large logs into smaller pieces will increase the amount of surface area exposed to wind and heat.
Poplars make excellent hedge trees.

Commonly asked questions

When is the best time to chop poplar for firewood?

If possible, fell a poplar tree and process it for firewood between winter and early spring. This time of year is colder and there is less sap and moisture content, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.

How can I identify a poplar tree?

Poplar trees are large and are best identified by their gray bark and ovate, triangular leaves. They also have small clusters of flowers that droop down. In the United States, a popular variety is the white poplar which has green and white leaves and smooth, white bark.

How can I identify poplar firewood?

Poplar wood is straight-grained in texture and may have brown or green streaks through the heartwood. Once dried, it is a light wood that splits easily. You’ll also notice the wood doesn’t produce much sap or resin and has a smooth bark exterior.

A poplar tree that has been felled by a chainsaw, showing the wood rings.
A felled poplar showing the wood grain.

Fast facts

  • The botanical name for poplar is Populus; it is from the family Salicaceae.
  • The most popular species of poplar in the United States includes the Lombardy (Populus nigra), balsam (Populus balsamifera), eastern (Populus balsamifera), and white (Populus alba) poplars.
  • The white and easter poplar trees can grow to over 100 feet in height.
  • Balsam poplars are generally found in swampland and make decent firewood.

Summing up

Poplar is below average firewood with a low heat output rating of 13.7 million BTUs. It is no match for popular wood like oak or rock elm for heat or coaling. But don’t let that stop you from using it. Poplar firewood burns easily, making it ideal for kindling. It’s also a decent choice for keeping your home in the shoulder season.

Poplar burns quickly so you’ll be kept busy, frequently adding more to the fire. A good option is to combine this firewood with other slow-burning wood like cherry or maple.

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