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Tree to 30 m. Bark greyish green to dark grey, furrowed, exfoliating when old. Branchlets yellowish brown or grey, glabrous; buds glabrous, sticky. Leaves deciduous, 7–14 × 4–9 cm (~25 × ~15 cm on suckers), long-ovate, upper surface bright green, glabrous, lower surface shiny green, glabrous, margins glandular-serrate or crenate-serrate, ciliate, apex acuminate; petiole 2–5 cm long. Fruiting catkins 11(–13) cm long, glabrous. Capsule with three to four valves, ~0.7 cm long. Flowering April to May, fruiting May to June (China). Fang et al. 1999. Distribution CHINA: Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan. Habitat Mixed broadleaved forest, between 2500 and 3300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8 (?). Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Fang et al. 1999; NT650, NT654. Cross-reference K435. Taxonomic note Populus purdomii var. rockii (Rehder) C.F. Fang & H.L. Yang occurs only in southeast Gansu and has smooth bark that does not exfoliate. The veins on the underside of the leaf are pubescent. Populus purdomii is not recognised by Eckenwalder (1996).
Named after the overshadowed plant-hunter William Purdom (1880–1921), Populus purdomii is now, it seems, an extremely rare plant in cultivation, being maintained only in a few collections and with a very limited gene pool. At Alice Holt the stooled collection contains two accessions, one from Versailles via the French Poplar Commission in 1954, and the other from Kew in 1957 – although neither has been verified as P. purdomii (R. Jinks, pers. comm. 2008). The current tree at Kew represents the latter accession but was repropagated in 1990, from material returned from Alice Holt. This is a female clone and was just leafing out when seen in early May 2008, having avoided the mid-April frosts that had blackened the shoots of adjacent specimens of P. szechuanica; the 8 m tree observed was slim, with a straight trunk. The leaves are quite large, and can emerge with a brown tinge.