POPLAR (לִבְנֶה, H4242). The poplar is mentioned only twice: “Jacob took fresh rods of poplar” (Gen 30:37); and “they...make offerings upon the hills, under...poplar” (Hos 4:13).
The poplar referred to is Populus alba, which can grow to a height of sixty ft. and produces very thick shade. The leaves are a pretty shiny green above, and a showy-white below. The flowers are inside the catkins, which inevitably appear before the foliage unfolds. The buds as they open produce a pleasant fragrance in the spring. Because of the shade and privacy the poplars afforded, they were widely used as groves in which heathen worship took place. In fact, Isaiah 65:3 is rendered by Moffatt “burning incense under the white poplars.”
Because the roots of poplars are notorious in spreading vigorously to seek water, Moffatt considers that Hosea 14:5 should read “strike roots down like a poplar,” and his tr. seems correct.
There has been much conjecture regarding Jacob’s use of poplar boughs in producing prenatal influences on ewes for his own benefit (Gen 30:37). The Heb. word is לִבְנֶה, H4242, which when tr. literally means “white.” This is said to refer to the white, woolly backs of the leaves of Populus alba. Jacob prob. cut off young shoots to use them for his “nefarious” purpose. It should be added that the passage ascribes Jacob’s success to God’s providence rather than to Jacob’s scheming.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(libhneh, "whiteness"; sturakinos, "storax" (Ge 30:37), leuke, "poplar" (Ho 4:13) (libhneh is so similar to the Arabic libna, the storax, that the latter certainly has the first claim to be the true translation)): "Jacob took him rods of fresh poplar," margin "storax tree" (Ge 30:37). "They .... burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because the shadow thereof is good" (Ho 4:13). In the latter reference the conjunction of the shrub, storax, with two great trees like the oak and terebinth--even though they all grow in the mountains--is strange. The storax cannot give a shade comparable with these trees. Had we other evidence of the storax being a sacred tree among the Hebrews, it might explain the difficulty.
The storax, Styrax officinalis (Natural Order Styraceae), is a very common shrub in Palestine which occasionally attains the height of 20 feet. The under surfaces of its oval leaves are covered with whitish hairs, and it has many beautiful pure-white flowers like orange blossoms--hence, its name "whiteness."
The poplar, the traditional translation in Ho 4:13, flourishes in many parts of Palestine. The white poplar, Populus alba, Arabic Haur, is common everywhere; Euphratica occurs especially in the Jordan valley; the black poplar, P. nigra, and the Lombardy poplar, P. pyramidalis--probably an importation--are both plentiful in the plain of Coele-Syria, around Damascus and along the river banks of Syria.