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Natural poplar and willow ecosystems on a grand scale: the Russian Federation

A.P. Tsarev

Anatoly P. Tsarev is at Petrozavodsk State University, Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation.

An impressive specimen in a nearly 130-year-old stand of Populus alba in the Khoper State Reserve, Voronezh Region (mean diameter 109.7 cm, mean height 43 m)

Available statistics indicate that the Russian Federation has among the world’s largest areas of natural stands of Salicaceae.

The Russian Federation has the world’s largest area of natural willow stands (Salix spp.) and the second largest area of natural poplar stands (Populus spp.), after Canada (Table 1). Natural poplar and willow ecosystems are important for environmental protection and as a source of wood and other materials (Table 2). The main products, in order of economic importance, are matches; packaging (pallets, boxes, crates); wickerwork; tannin; pulp, paper and cardboard; reconstituted wood panels; solid wood furniture; fuelwood and biomass for energy; and plywood.

The only one of these species for which official statistics on area and stock are available is aspen (Populus tremula); the area of natural stands is 20.6 million hectares and the stock of wood is 3.1 billion cubic metres. Other natural poplars (P. suaveolens, P. alba, P. nigra, P. laurifolia, P. maximowiczii and others) have an area of about 962 700 ha with stock of 143.39 million cubic metres. Natural stands of willows (all forms, including shrubs) grow on 2.9 million hectares; of these, 1.1 million hectares are tree forms (S. alba, S. fragilis, S. caprea), with a stock of 86.5 million cubic metres (unpublished State assessment data, 2003). The most widespread willow species in the country are shown in Table 3.

Although the Russian Federation possesses a huge area of forests (733.15 million hectares of stocked forest land, with a stock of wood of 76 060 million cubic metres, excluding forest areas not under the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources [Forest Fund of Russia, 2003]), the southern regions of the country have some deficit in wood supply. This is being addressed in part by the cultivation of fast-growing species of poplars and willows (Table 4).

Natural Salix alba in the Voronezh region

TABLE 1. Area of natural forests where poplars and/or willows represent the most prominent trees, either for their number or for dominance at canopy level, in the Russian Federation

Dominant genus

Approximate area
(million ha)

Main Populus and Salix spp. present

Other species present



P. tremula (20.6 million ha)

P. suaveolens, P. alba, P. nigra, P. laurifolia, P. maximowiczii, P. canescens, P. davidiana, Chosenia arbutifolia (together 962 700 ha)



S. alba, S. fragilis, S. triandra, S. pentandra, S. caprea, S. viminalis, S. acutifolia (~70%)

S. cinerea, S. dasyclados, S. myrsinifolia, S. purpurea, S. myrtilloides, S. glauca, S. polaris

Sources: Forest Fund of Russia, 2003; Chumakov, 1991; Skvortsov, 1968.

TABLE 2. Approximate average annual production or removals of roundwood, 2001–2003


From natural forests
(1000 m3)

From planted forests
(1000 m3)

From agroforestry and trees outside forests
(1000 m3)


70 000




2 270



Systematic research on genetics and breeding of willows and poplars has been carried out in the Russian Federation for the past 70 years. Willows have successfully been bred for straightness of trunk and productivity (for treelike willows); increased biomass per unit area; quality of boughs for wickerwork (length, flexibility, viscosity, etc.); content and quality of tannin; decorative properties; and frost resistance. Research on poplars has addressed growth, wood stock and biomass yield and their use in shelterbelts, water and soil protection and other environmental enhancement purposes, including ornamental uses. Poplars have been selected and bred for disease and frost resistance, fast growth and decorative pyramidal form.

TABLE 3. Main Salix species in the Russian Federation

Subgenus Salix

Subgenus Vetrix

Subgenus Chamaetia

S. alba

S. caprea

S. reticulata

S. fragilis

S. myrsinifolia

S. herbacea

S. triandra

S. cinerea

S. retusa

S. pentandra

S. viminalis

S. myrtilloides

S. babylonica

S. schwerinii

S. glauca


S. dasyclados

S. polaris


S. acutifolia


S. pupurea


Sources: Skvortsov, 1968; Nazarov, 1936; Morozov, 1966.

TABLE 4. Area of planted poplars and willows in the Russian Federation


Main purpose of management

Approximate area
Average increment
Average rotation


Planted forest

Wood production

25 000 10-15 20-30
(40-50 aspen)


1 000 15-20  

Agroforestry and trees outside forests

Wood production



5 000 15-20 30-40


Planted forest

Wood production

200 10-20 1-2 (roots 2-20)




500 10-20 1-2 (roots 2-20)

Agroforestry and trees outside forests

Wood production



100 10-20 20-30
a n.d. = no data available.
b Wicker, tannin, biomass for energy.


Chumakov, V.V. 1991. The creation of high-tannin willow plantations – survey information, Issue 2. Moscow, Russian Federation, Research Institute of Forest Resources of USSR Forest State Committee. (In Russian).

Forest Fund of Russia. 2003. State registration of the Forest Fund to 1 January 2003. Moscow, State Forest Service. (In Russian).

Morozov, I.R. 1966. Willows of the USSR and their cultivation. Moscow, Forest Industry. (In Russian).

Nazarov, M. 1936. Genus 356 – Salix. In Flora of the USSR, Vol. 5, p. 24–214. Moscow-Leningrad, Izdatel ‘stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR. (In Russian).

Skvortsov, A.K. 1968. Willows of the USSR – a systematic review. Moscow, Science. (In Russian).

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