Here is everything you need to know about the Eastern Cottonwood tree including its usage, growing conditions, and some frequently asked questions. Also, get to know the other subspecies and varieties of a cottonwood tree.
Let’s paint a picture: an enormous that dwells in . A forest of that rustle in the slightest breeze, almost like an enormous wind chime, that sheds warm to snow in the summer months.
Sounds pretty magical, doesn’t it? But we are not in a fairy tale. The is very much part of reality, though the way it produces seeds may seem other-worldly. This variety is enormous, gorgeous, and is prevalent in much of eastern North America.
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One of the largest and of all American hardwoods, the also goes by the name of “necklace “. This nickname alludes to the downy cotton seeds that the explodes within the summertime. Sometimes the cotton strings the seeds along in a manner resembling a string of beads, or otherwise, a necklace.
trees are part of the genus, which both aspens and poplars are kin to as well. It is common to mistake a for a , but they only have very subtle differences. They are so similar in fact, that the is sometimes referred to as “the cottonless “.
This fast-growing, long-living deciduous can live up to 200-400 years old in ideal conditions, making it an honorary member of the old-growth community. Otherwise, it survives to be 70-100 years in unideal conditions. The oldest , the Balmville from New Zealand, was 42 meters tall and lived from the year 1699-2015! That’s 316 years old!
What do Look Like?
The is a rather tall and wide , ranging from 20-60 meters in height, and trunks usually over 2.5 meters wide. They grow incredibly fast as well — in Mississippi river bottoms they can grow 5 meters a year!
A soil — only about a meter deep. has a silvery-white smooth , with very minimal vertical fissures. become quite a dark gray in color, and the fissures become deeper and more prominent. Their roots grow in shallow
If we travel up the trunk, we’ll find that branches tend to start growing very far up the trunk, which grows towards the sky, rather than parallels with the ground. An is stout, and a dull yellow in color.
On the ends of these in this way!) you’ll find coarsely toothed leaves — a rough and jagged . A is a very dark green in the summer and a vibrant yellow in the fall. With a flat about 5 inches long, and a shape, their flat stems cause leaves to shake from even the gentlest of breezes. This feature is one of the eastern cottonwoods’ most defining characteristics (and is quite similar to the
How do Reproduce?
The are dioecious in nature, meaning that it produces single-sex flowers — one will have , another will only have a . The flower that is produced from these trees is called a , and they are clusters of tiny flowers with indistinct or no petals at all.
the that produces pollen — is about 4 inches long and is a deep reddish-purple in color. — the that possesses an ovary — is about 3 inches long and is bright green. These usually pop up in the . —
When a pollinator successfully brings pollen to a , they will develop samaras, which are small winged seed capsules (winged to help with distribution) in the early summer. In the later summer, these capsules will split open to unleash giant numbers of tiny seeds that are encompassed by layers of downy cotton. This explosion of soft, snow-like cotton is another defining characteristic of . A single is able to release 40 million seeds in a single season!
*Many farmers find cottonwoods to be a nuisance for their ridiculous production of cotton that sticks to nearly everything. But if you’ve ever walked in a grove in the summertime, there is something very romantic about snow in August.
Many trees are able to colonize though clonal saplings — this means that when a is cut down, saplings will grow from the surviving roots, and are literal clones of the mother . When it comes to the , if a is cut down it will simply re-sprout, not as a clone, but as itself.
Where do Grow?
The grows specifically in the midwestern United States and is only found in random occurrences in northeastern America, usually thanks to intentional planting of groves.
This can be found in the southern Canadian prairies, northeastern New Mexico, and in many states throughout central and eastern America.
What are the Growing Conditions of an ?
The ideal growing conditions of an seeds. usually occur near smaller bodies of water — swamps, rivers, and especially mud banks resulting from flooding. These conditions are ideal for seedling germination, as waterlogged soil protects seeds from heat and from birds and mammals who live to feed on
They prefer soils that are low in nutrients with a moderate pH level. The is able to grow so tall because it needs sun exposure. Full sun is an absolute necessity for this variety of . It completely happens standalone in a field where there is no competition, but it will grow as tall as it needs to penetrate the forest canopy.
are also able to grow in areas that aren’t as moist, but it will slightly alter their behavior. Normally, when a is happy it will follow the regular fall foliage shedding. If a is in a drier location or is experiencing drought, it will drop its leaves far earlier in the season due to rust, and its spectacular yellow fall foliage will be entirely missed.
How are Used?
Typical of the genus, the plywood. has very softwood. It is not particularly straight-grained or strong, but it is heavy. It weighs 28 pounds/foot. Since the wood is not particularly attractive, uses are usually reserve for the interior parts of furniture, or for
They are also a very important food source for various caterpillar and lepidopteran (moths and butterflies).
What are Other Types of Trees?
It’s a bit of a confusing story, differing cottonwoods from trees. Simply remember that they are all part of the genus, and the varieties are from different families. can be divvied up into 3 subspecies, and 5 varieties:
( subsp. )
Native to southeastern Canada (specifically Quebec and Ontario) and the eastern United States (specifically ranging from North Dakota to Texas).
( subsp. monilifera)
Native to south-central Canada (specifically southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and the central United States (specifically New Mexico and Texas).
Rio Grande ( subsp. wislizeni)
Native to central-eastern United States (specifically southern Colorado, south Texas, northeastern New Mexico, and western Arizona).
Native to warmer and wetter regions of North America, where its relatives cannot survive. Also known as the “downy willow family (“, this is part of the Salicaceae).
( x acuminata)
A hybrid of willow family ( and , native to the Rocky Mountains of North America, and part of the Salicaceae).
A slim and tightly clustered variety native to the Rocky Mountains and surrounding plains of western North America, and part of the willow family (Salicaceae).
A willow family ( of native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is part of the Salicaceae).
Also known as the Californian willow family ( or western-basalm native to western North America, and part of the Salicaceae).
How fast does the grow?
lumber industry, due to the fact that the is so fast-growing. It can grow anywhere between 3-5 meters in height per year, accompanied by a hefty trunk to support its impressive growth. is considered a rather valuable in the
How long does the live?
When in ideal conditions, an the as part of the old-growth community! If growing in unideal conditions, the will survive to be around 70-100 years old. can live to be around 200-400 years old, this qualifies
When does an reach sexual maturity?
Although eastern cottonwoods produce their downy seeds every year, seeds will only be viable for germination every 2-10 years. They will produce seeds before they are sexually mature, but they will only become viable once the is between 5-10 years of age.
What is used for?
Because the grows so quickly, its wood isn’t going to be super strong, straight-grained, or particularly attractive. However, its wood is still used in the manufacturing of plywood and is used for the interior parts of furniture as well.
How do you identify an ?
The easiest way to identify an is by its very flat, dark green leaves that rustle in even the slightest breeze, or by the incredible amounts of downy cotton that contains the seeds of the tree that is produced in the summertime.
Why is it called a ?
They are called trees because of the downy, that encompass their seeds. In the summertime, in areas with trees, almost everything will be completely covered in cotton.
Is the same as ?
and poplars are part of the same genus.
Can you use cotton?
cotton can actually be used, but more as a stuffer of pillows and comforters. It is possible to weave the cotton into strands, but it won’t be as strong or easy to use as regular cotton.
Is a hardwood or softwood?
trees are softwood.
Do trees have deep roots?
roots grow laterally and in shallow soil, never usually reaching depths past one meter.
Do male or female trees produce cotton?
Male trees produce pollen, whereas female trees produce cotton.
How do you stop your from shedding?
The only way to guarantee that a won’t produce cotton is by ensuring that it is a . Or, a ! They look very similar, but poplars do not produce cotton.