Two hybrid poplar maternal half-sib families, resulting from controlled crosses of the female parent Populus deltoides ‘S9-2’ with P. nigra ‘Ghoy’ and P. trichocarpa ‘V24’, were grown at three sites: northern Italy, central France and southern England. Juvenile stem growth traits (height, circumference and volume) and sylleptic branchiness (number of branches, density of branches per unit of stem height, percentage of the stem carrying branches and distance of the highest sylleptic branch to the top of the stem) were measured on 1-year-old shoots. Our general objectives were to determine the degree to which the expression of stem growth and syllepsis and the relationships between them are affected by environmental conditions and to evaluate the efficiency of indirect selection for stem growth using branching traits as secondary criteria. The performance of both families differed significantly within and between sites. Pronounced heterosis was observed and highly significant genotype × environment interactions were found for all traits across the sites. Syllepsis showed more marked genetic variation and plasticity than stem growth traits. Relationships between sylleptic branchiness and stem growth depended on environmental conditions. Heritability values at the individual level ranged between 0.09 and 0.59, but genetic gain in stem volume was not significantly improved when selection was based on sylleptic branch characteristics. However, despite strong phenotypic plasticity among sites, genotypic ranking among the sites was relatively stable
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