Almost all plants in the genus Populus are dioecious (i.e. trees are either male or female), but it is unknown whether dioecy evolved in a common ancestor or independently in different subgenera. Here, we sequence the small peritelomeric X- and Y-linked regions of P. deltoides chromosome XIX. Two genes are present only in the Y-linked region. One is a duplication of a non-Y-linked, female-specifically expressed response regulator, which produces siRNAs that block this gene’s expression, repressing femaleness. The other is an LTR/Gypsy transposable element family member, which generates long non-coding RNAs. Overexpression of this gene in A. thaliana promotes androecium development. We also find both genes in the sex-determining region of P. simonii, a different poplar subgenus, which suggests that they are both stable components of poplar sex-determining systems. By contrast, only the duplicated response regulator gene is present in the sex-linked regions of P. davidiana and P. tremula. Therefore, findings in our study suggest dioecy may have evolved independently in different poplar subgenera.