The Thirteen Trees
of the
Ogham Moon Calendar

thro

The Five Trees
of Solstice
and Equinox

The Vowels

through

The Half Year
Ruling Trees

through

The Sacred One

 

 

 

Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2013

Poplar   -   Eadha

Ogham letter E         Ruler of the Autumn Equinox 21st September

Powers:     Edurance in hardship.    Shielding from fears.    Wealth & prosperity  
Protection from Theft.          
For use when communicating with divinites

 

    There are at least forty different species associated with the Populus family and they can be all too easy to confuse, particularly as many of them have 'interbred' over the years. In England, the three that we know best are the White Poplar (P. alba), the Black Poplar (P. nigra)  and the Lombardy Poplar (P. nigra italica). All are deciduous but not long lived, most lasting for no more than sixty years.    

Poplar – Eadha Green Sand Way, Charing, Kent  ©vcsinden2012
Poplar in high summer, growing along the
'Green Sand Way', Charing

Although these three species are magnificent for screening or spreading shade depending on their shape, they aren’t suitable for planting in smaller gardens. The root system is strong, and can easily grow through pipes, foundations and lift hard landscaping.

     A fourth species, more commonly in Scotland, may also be seen, sometimes mistaken for Birch -  the Aspen (P. tremula).

       The Ogham Tree calendar and alphabet, at least in its modern interpretation, concerns itself with the White Poplar and the Aspen. As with many of the ancient trees of magic and wisdom, opinions on the species can vary from region to region. People will champion what is most loved and familiar to them - and so they should!

  Each tree carries either male (reddish green ) or female (yellowish green) flowers, taking the form of long, rather ‘shaggy’ and untidy pollen carrying catkins in early spring. The tops of each female catkin produce a small pod-like seed-head which splits open in early summer and spills its thousands of white fluffy ‘cotton’  covered seeds into the wind.

    The whole species is characterised by its unusually long and flat ‘petiole’ or leaf stalk which catch even the lightest breeze making them tremble in the wind. This is most distinct in the Aspen.
Young trees have soft, smooth bark ranging from light silver to dark grey, darkening, roughening and cracking with age.

Poplar leaves forced into bud in early March ©vcsinden2013 Poplar – Eadha  Female catkins ©vcsinden2013
 
Left: Young leaves emerging from buds in March.
Right:  Green female catkins of white poplar in May

 

White Poplar – Eadha Hythe Canal, Kent ©vcsinden2013
White poplar by the Hythe canal in February

     White poplar:   a beautiful tree of a spreading shape, it may reach heights of around 100 feet (30m). Its toothed, heart shaped leaves are bright green but much paler underneath. Some, known as 'Silver Leaf Trees' have even lighter undersides, brilliantly white and felted, seen to full effect on a windy day, especially in spring. There is a greyer species too, and either one can be known as the ‘Silver Tree’. Quite easy to identify in winter from its pale bark which may split and roll back into a well-defined  pattern of darker diamonds (see below).

   Aspen:  a British native, but far more common in the USA and Scotland. Much smaller in stature than the white poplar, slender in growth on a tall, slim trunk.  They spread easily by means of underground shoots and so are often found growing close together in little groves. The roundish toothed leaves sprout on flattened stalks, each one unusually long and flexible. These are a soft rusty colour in spring before maturing to a uniform mid- green. Aspens seem continually on the move which gives the tree its nickname of the ‘Quaking aspen’ or ‘Shivering tree’.  

Black Poplar leaves ©vcsinden2013

  
   Black Poplar
:   increasingly rare in Britain, but was once commonly planted.  Growing to a full height of around 120 feet, (36 m) with toothed leaves which are more oval in shape than those of the white poplar and are dark green all over, turning golden yellow in the autumn.

   The catkins (devil's fingers) are more substantial, like a row of rusty-red or greenish beads hanging below the branches. The rough bark of the black poplar may exude a sticky yellowish resin-like balsam which solidifies as it dries.

 

   Lombardy Poplar:  brought to Britain from The Himalayas in the 18th century. This poplar is commonly seen planted in a row as a fast growing, elegant and wind resistant screen or shelter – it has a very tall, columnar habit and is easily recognisable with its branches reaching up to the clouds.

Lombardy Poplar at sunset, Badlesmere, Kent   ©vcsinden2012
A row of Lombardy poplar at summer sundown, Badlesmere, Kent

    Poplar wood is very soft and can be easily split. It is also quite resistant to fire, making it useful in matches, paper pulp and charcoal. As a lightweight timber which doesn’t splinter easily it’s is also in demand for packing cases. When dry it is very buoyant and it was a first choice for boat paddles. 

Poplar – Eadha - ripe catkin flowers - Alfriston, West Sussex ©vcsinden2013
Poplar – Eadha - fluff from female catkin flowers - Alfriston, West Sussex ©vcsinden2013
The fluffy 'cotton wool' from female poplar catkins can cause quite a problem on lawns and roads in July
Alfriston, West Sussex

 

 

   Poplar Healing & Medicine

   As long ago as the 3rd century AD, Quintus Serenus Sammonicus documented a fine tribute to the healing powers of the poplar in his celebrated medical poem ‘Liber Medicinalis’.
   He of   'a b r a c a d a b r a'  fame - but that's another story!

“A hidden disease doth oft rage and raine,
The hip ouercome and vexe with the paine,
It makes with vile aking one tread slow and shrinke:
The bark of white poplar is help had in drinke.”

Black Polar bark  ©vcsinden2012
White Poplar – Eadha - diamond bark- Hythe Canal ©vcsinden2013
Bark of Black Poplar
Bark of White Poplar

 

   A popular medical journal in Edwardian days was ' Ellingwood’s Therapeutist, a monthly journal of direct therapeutics'.  The volume for January 1907 suggests the use of poplar for   "Intermittant fever, protracted fevers, prostatic hypertrophy, general debility."


Finlay Ellingwood writes: 
"The chief  constituents of poplar bark are the two  important glucosides, populin and salicin,  also a resin and an essential oil. It resembles quinine in its  physiological and therapeutic effects.
The primary  effect of an infusion of poplar bark is  to improve the appetite and strengthen  the digestion.
The buds of the poplar have a balsamic  odor, and contain a small quantity of  volatile oil, resin, etc.
They possess the  medicinal virtues common to terebinthinate  substances.

An ointment is made of poplar  buds by digesting them with twice their weight of hot lard, and gently boiling them  until all moisture is dissipated. This is  a fragrant ointment resembling  benzoinated  lard in its antiseptic qualities.'

   Modern testing has enabled pharmaceutical laboratories to discover the truth about the ancient properties of Poplar – and in particular its bark. There are many similarities to the Willow, and it contains glycosides, salicin and populin.  There is a definite anti-inflammatory action which makes medicine said to be invaluable in the treatment of painful rheumatic diseases, especially to bring down swelling.  


    A simple infusion from bark and/or leaves can be used as an antiseptic wash.  Made into an astringent tea this can be taken internally as a mild diuretic and general stimulant to the digestive system. Bark from young trees, carefully collected in spring is recommended.

  The Bach flower remedies use aspen as one of their essences and suggest its use for a person who feels fear, anxiety and apprehension but without knowing the cause.

 

 

   Poplar Myth, Spirituality and Folklore Tradition
   White Poplar:         
Element:  Water        Ruling Planet: Saturn      Gender: Female
   
Aspen:                   Element:  Air        Ruling Planet: Mercury      Gender: Male

    Association with the Gods:  Jupiter, Hercules, Persephone, Cronos, Hecate, Diana, The Triple Goddess (winter aspect)

   ‘In time of heathenism, when men had found out any exellent herb, they dedicated it to their god, as the bay- tree to Apollo, the oak to Jupiter, the vine to Bacchus, the poplar to Hercules.’     Culpeper

     Lombardy Poplar, December Poplar – Eadha  ©vcsinden2012In folk magic, both the white poplar and aspen were believed to cure agues and palsy by transference with the trembling habit of the trees. A thick strand of hair was pinned to the trunk, a charm whispered “Espen tree, espen tree, I prithee – To shak an shiver insted o’ me.” (Folk Magic of the Northern Counties- Chapter V – Henderson 1879).

    With folk names such as Quaking, Trembling or Quivering Tree, Abbey Tree, Arbale, Able, Owler, and Bitter-weed, legends associated with the members of the Poplar species are scarce, despite its abundance in many countries and continents.
    Black Poplar – Devil's Fingers - May  ©vcsinden2013

     As a tree associated with winter and sadness (again, sympathetic magic from its trembling habit) it was once considered unlucky, particulary if planted close to a dwelling. In Northen England, the long, tasselled  catkins of black poplar were called ‘Devil’s Fingers’ (above right - black poplar catkins, early May) and could bring disaster if picked or even touched.

    White Poplar – Eadha - canopy in early June  ©vcsinden2013The white poplar and the aspen (for they often become confused and blended)  are both revered and vilified in folklore. Revered of old as the Whispering tree – the tree with the acutest hearing of them all, she trembles her leaves to pick up the slightest communication from near or far. Vilified since Christian times as both the tree on which Judas was hung, and the wood of the cross of crucifixion was formed (as so many trees are) and trembling in shame ever since.

  It is the black poplar however which features in the best known tale. From Greek mythology, it tells of the sisters of the ill-fated and excitable Phaeton :-

    When Phaeton became a young man, he was at last allowed to journey to the East to meet his father, the God of the Sun – Helios himself.  At this first meeting, Phaeton begged his father to grant him an indulgence. Helios, wanting to prove himself a generous parent agreed to allow whatever his son wished.
     Phaeton asked the unthinkable – permission to drive the Chariot of the Sun across the sky. Helios was bound by his promise and reluctantly allowed the boy to put on the majestic crown of light and fire, mount the glowing chariot and take up the reins.     

Detail from 'The Heliades' Michaelangelo
To see entire art work click picture

The team of mighty stallions felt the unfamiliar hands and refused to be guided. They dragged the reins from Phaeton’s grasp  and careered out of control across the night sky.       They bolted past constellations and upset them. They passed too close to planets, melting ice and drying up rivers.
     As they sprang near the Earth, scorching forests into desert, Zeus, alerted to the chaos in his universe, hurled a lightning bolt at the burning chariot. It shattered into a million shards killing the boy, whose body hurtled to earth near the River Eridanus. There it was discovered by his three sisters. The girls mourned so long, and wept such inconsolable tears that they were turned into three shivering poplar trees, forever raising their arms to the sun and shedding tears of amber.

    
     Poplar is clearly mentioned in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’
in connection with the Roman god-hero Hercules, who favoured poplar leaves for his hero's crown. His ‘Tenth Labour’, taking the cattle back to Greece, was spoiled by the hideous giant Cacus. This fire-breathing colossus dragged eight of Hercules’ herd to his mountain cave. Their bellowing alerted Hercules who strove to take them back. Eventually he leaped into the smoke filled depths and strangled the giant.

Bust of Hercules clearly wearing his crown of polar leaves.     Antiquity in the British Musem.

     In Book V111, we’re told that, because of this victory, an altar was set in a grove and dedicated to Hercules, and the day was to be remembered with rites …

Poplar – Eadha - canopy in May  ©vcsinden2013‘Come now, O you young men, wreathe your hair with leaves, hold out wine-cups in your right hands, in honour of such great glory’ …..
Popitus spoke, while grey-green poplar veiled his hair with Hercules’s own shade, hanging down in a knot of leaves, and the sacred cup filled his hand. ….. then the Salii, the dancing priests, came to sing round  the lighted altars, their foreheads wreathed with sprays of poplar, praising the glories and deeds of Hercules in song.’

     Apparently White Poplar originated during the ‘Twelth Labour’, when Hercules journeyed into the underworld to capture the three-headed dog, Cerberus. He wove a crown of shady poplar leaves  and the undersides turned silvery-white to reflect the god-like radiance of his face, whilst the upper surfaces remained dark and scorched.

Arbor Tree - Black poplar at Aston-on-Clun Poplar – Eadha  ©vcsinden2012 Arbor Tree ceremony - Aston-on-Clun -information poster near tree ©vcsinden2012
The Arbor Tree, Aston-on-Clun, taken on a rainy day in May 2012 - three weeks before the new festival day

    In England, on 29th May, the village of Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire still carry out an old custom of decorating the black poplar tree that stands at the centre of the village with flags. The present tree is quite young, but is said to be descended from its original tree ancestor. This is 'The Arbor Tree ceremony'.
A small book in my possession, very old though sadly with no publishing date, says of this occasion:

“In 1789, on May 29th, the owner of an estate at this place married. His bride’s father was owner of an adjoining estate. A poplar tree standing at some cross roads was decorated with little flags on every branch to celebrate the wedding and, although it costs several pounds to do so, the tree, now of course a giant, is still decorated in the same way every year.”

     From ‘A Calendar of Old English Customs Still in Being’   Mark Savage, Reading.

Poplar Magic, Charms and Beliefs     

    *     To increase your wealth, carry a small piece from the poplar tree wherever you go or add it to your charm bag.   

'The Poplar Fairy' Cecily Mary Baker

*      Poplar wood does not make a very satisfactory, lasting wand - but a temporary, fresh twig may be useful in workings where you need to listen carefully - to your own conscience or to what the natural world about you is relating.

    *      If you need to know if rain is forecast, stand near an aspen or white poplar tree. If the leaves make a great noise and clatter, then heavy rain can be expected soon.

    *      Poplar wood has ever been known as a protective shield which can fend off unknown fears. A twig or slither of diamond patterned bark slipped under your pillow will bring quiet nights without worry.

    *  Add black poplar (it must be the scarcer black species) to a herbal incense and burn when in need of courage.

 

'How the Poplar Leaves were Made'
from 'Through the Green Door'   
Illustrated by Clara E Atwood 1921