Balsam Poplar (<i>Populus balsamifera</i>; Salicaceae) Beyond the Tree Line in the Western Canadian Mainland Arctic (Northwest Territories)

  • Jeffery M. Saarela
  • Lynn J. Gillespie
  • Laurie L. Consaul
  • Roger D. Bull
Keywords: balsam poplar, tree line, Arctic, Northwest Territories, Populus balsamifera, floristics, phytogeography, climate change


Balsam poplar is the northernmost tree species in North America, with a reported range that extends generally to the tree line across the continent and beyond the tree line in Alaska, where extralimital stands growing in Arctic ecosystems on the North Slope have been documented and studied. Here we summarize existing information and report new data on extralimital stands of balsam poplar from the Arctic ecozone in the northeastern mainland Northwest Territories. These occurrences extend the geographical and ecological range of the species fully into the mainland Canadian Arctic. In this region, balsam poplar is known from four sites: two in Tuktut Nogait National Park and two along the Hornaday and Brock rivers just beyond the northwestern Park boundary. Balsam poplar was first reported from two of these sites more than 50 years ago, but those data have not been considered in most subsequent floristic and ecological work. A balsam poplar grove in Tuktut Nogait National Park consists of four discrete stands of shrubby plants growing on a low ridge adjacent to the Hornaday River; their tallest ramets measure 1.1 – 1.86 m. A larger grove along the edge of the lower Brock River consists of three large stands, the tallest ramets measuring 3.5 – 4 m. The boreal and subarctic regions of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have large areas where balsam poplar has not been documented by herbarium specimens, including most of the forest-tundra and tree-line zones. Collections from these areas and other potential extralimital sites in the Canadian Arctic are urgently needed to document the current distribution of balsam poplar. Such data could serve as a baseline for assessing potential future alteration of the range of this species as a result of climate change.