In a field known as The Gritts, on Rodd Farm, on the bank of the Hindwell Brook there stood two majestic Black Poplars. These trees had possbily been there for centuries. Sadly, in 2001, one of these trees died and fell into the river. Judging by the rot in the trunk it had been struggling for quite a while. The other tree fell very soon after. The two had most likely shared a root system and might have begun life as a colony; a male colony, since they did not produce the seed fluff of the female tree.
The second tree, however, did not die. Fed by its few intact root,s and those established by its embedded branches, it continues to shoot along the entire length of its horizontal trunk. We have placed an electric fence around this tree to prevent our cattle grazing off these tasty new shoots.
Cuttings from this second tree have been taken and planted up in a suitably wet area opposite the entrance to The Rodd. This plot had been cleared of a stand of non-native hybrid poplar in the previous year and the Black Polar cuttings went in alongside White Willow and Golden Willow cuttings from trees near the nearby railway embankment. Hybrid poplars can be responsible for genetic pollution of the native by cross fertilisation and so propagation of ancient Black Poplar by cuttings is a good way to retain the genetic purity of the species.
We take a 2-3 foot shoot with its terminal bud, clear off the lower buds and place the cut end about six inches into wet ground. Too many buds left on the shoot produce too many leaves before the cutting has developed sufficient root structure to cope with a lot of transpiration. The terminal bud is important for good upward growth.
With these cuttings we planted 10 others suplied by the Sussex Black Poplar Working Group (5 male and 5 female). Of the imported cuttings many developed canker and have grown slowly whereas those from the farm have flourished and even required thinning.
During the winter of 2013/14 we took a second series of cuttings that are currently in a wet nursery area and will be planted by the road bridge where another stand of hybrid poplars have recently been removed.