Productivity, growth patterns, and cellulosic pulp properties of hybrid aspen clones
Research Highlights: This research provides a firm basis for understanding the improved aspen hybrid performance that aims at facilitating optimal clone selection for industrial application. Background and Objectives: Rapid growth and wood properties make aspen (Populus tremula L.) suitable for the production of pulp and paper. We assessed the potential of tree improvement through hybridization to enhance aspen productivity in northern Poland, and investigated the effects of Populus tremula hybridization with Populus tremuloides Michaux and Populus alba L. on the growth and cellulosic pulp properties for papermaking purposes. Materials and Methods: A common garden trial was utilized that included 15 hybrid aspen clones of P. tremula x P. tremuloides, four of P. tremula x P. alba, and one, previously tested P. tremula clone. Clones of P. tremula, plus trees from wild populations, were used as a reference. Tree height and diameter at breast height (DBH) were measured after growing seasons four through seven. At seven years of age, the three clones representing all species combinations were harvested, and their cellulosic pulp properties and paper sheet characteristics were assessed. Results: The clones from wild populations exhibited the poorest growth. In contrast, the clone ‘Wä 130 (P. tremula x P. tremuloides) demonstrated the highest DBH, height, volume production, and mean annual increment (MAI) (25.4 m3 ha-1 yr-1). The MAI ratio calculated for interspecific crosses ranged from 1.35- to 1.42-fold, higher than that for the P. tremula. Chemical properties of pulp, fiber morphology, and the physical properties of paper sheets were more desirable for interspecific hybrid clones than those for the pure P. tremula clone. Conclusions: The results indicated that plantations of hybrid aspen may constitute an important additional source of wood for pulp and paper products in Poland. Our findings further suggested that the standard rotation of these trees may be reduced from 40 to 20 years, increasing overall biomass yield and enhancing atmospheric carbon sequestration.