In our study, we tested two poplars, Populus beijingensis and Populus cathayana, as model species for their potential for phytoremediation by measuring changes in biomass, pigments, superoxide radicals (O2−), cellular ultrastructure and their ability for O2− quenching and heavy metal accumulation when exposed to Pb, Zn and their interaction in a hydroponic system. Exposure to Pb did not cause a significant decrease in biomass in either P. beijingensis or P. cathayana. Correspondingly, no obvious impairment in cellular organelles was observed in either species, although the former species translocated a higher fraction of Pb to its shoots than the latter. In contrast, there were significant decreases in biomass and pigment content, and serious impairments in ultrastructure in both species when exposed to either Zn alone or to a combined treatment. Under such conditions, P. beijingensis showed smaller losses of biomass and pigments but a greater ability to quench O2− and maintained relatively intact cellular organelles compared with P. cathayana. Under the combined stress, there were no obvious additive effects on biomass, pigments or cellular impairment, whereas synergistic effects on metal absorption and accumulation in both species were observed when compared with exposure to either alone. Thus, the attribute of synergistic uptake and translocation in both species validates their potential to remediate soil contaminated by multiple metals. Moreover, our results indicated that P. beijingensis is a better potential candidate for phytoremediation than P. cathayana, due to its greater phytoremediation efficiency as well as its higher tolerance capacity.