Thursday, October 11, 2018
Cottonwood - Populus deltoides
The Cottonwood - Populus deltoides - is a tall deciduous shade tree with a large spreading crown, named for its cotton-like seeds. It is part of the Poplar family, this diverse family includes the quaking aspen, which boasts the widest range of any North American tree, and the Plains cottonwood, which was the only tree many early settlers met as they forged westward through America's prairies. It is also one of the largest North American hardwood trees.
Image Citation: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Eastern Cottonwood grow from 60 to 100 feet tall. The leaves are almost triangular in shape, 3-5" long and wide. In the Spring the start as a Shiny Green then turning a bright yellow-gold in fall. The leaves are alternate and simple, with coarsely toothed (crenate/serrate) edges, and subcordate at the base. Male and female flowers occur on separate catkins, and appear before the leaves in spring. The seeds are within a cottony structures that allows them to be blown long distances in the air before settling to ground. Their fruit consists of egg-shaped capsules averaging 1/2" long, that mature in spring and split into three parts. Bark is gray, thick, rough and deeply furrowed. The cottonwoods have a rapid growth rate and are also adaptable to many soils and climates. They are very resistant to flood damage but do not fair well with wind or heavy ice storms. Recommended for growth Zones 2-9
Image Citations: (Bark-Left) Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org & (Seeds/Cotton-Right) Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org
Cottonwood trunks provided a great material for early timber homes and canoe making. Their bark was used to produce food for horses and a bitter medicinal or healing tea. In regions with few trees, the very noticeable cottonwoods often served as gathering places and trail markers, and as sacred objects for several Plains tribes, they were also a sure sign that water was nearby as when found in the wild their roots almost always are near a water source. Today, Cottonwood's are most commonly used to produce some interior grade furniture, plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp. The lumber is considered weak, soft, light and often warps during the drying process.