Farmers, Ranchers Knew Value of Silver

by Bob Kitchell,
originally published in the October 17, 1998, issue of the Weld County Past Times

In the early years of Weld County’s development, farm and ranch homesteaders realized the importance of planting trees.

Not only did the trees provide shade and wind breaks from the high plains’ harsh climate, they also were grown to provide firewood for the cold winter months.

Through trial and error, a small group of trees emerged as the best for the high plains homesteaders. One of these trees was the silver poplar, a member of the poplar family that includes cottonwoods, poplars and aspens.

The silver poplar is native to central Europe and Asia. It was brought over to this country by immigrants and botanists.

The trees are large, suckering trees whose leaves have a white-woolly underside. This is really noticeable in breezy weather.

The bark has an attractive grayish-white color that darkens with age on the lower trunk. The trees can reach a height of 90 feet and are fast growing, putting on 3 to 4 feet a year.

Today you can see many silver poplars on Weld County farms and ranches. There are also some in Greeley that are left over from old farm properties that have been incorporated into the city. Most of these trees are older trees from the first half of this century or last part of the 1800s.

In recent decades, various hybrids of ash, honeylocust and other trees have been promoted as having fewer problems with pests, diseases and invasive roots. Less demand and availability has reduced the planting of silver poplars.

There is still a good tree for country properties and large in-town properties and parks. Only the seedless ones are good. The female silver poplars are even more prolific seed producers than their cottonwood relatives. Both are illegal in town.

You just have to realize that to get the benefit of the fast growth rate, you will have to spend more on maintenance, such as trimming and spraying.

When you see these trees, think of the role they played in helping earlier generations of farm and ranch families establish their homesteads.