All of us want the winsome experience of lying right next to the tree under the shade of branches that produce catkins. Catkins add aesthetic beauty to the tree. 

Commonly every tree produces catkins but no other trees produce catkins as exquisite as the Cottonwood tree. 

Relishing at the moment, you must have recognized the tree species but still, you want to know more about the species. 

In this article, to satisfy your insatiable hunger for knowledge of the Cottonwood Tree, We have listed ten interesting facts about the Cottonwood Tree. 

Table of Contents

1. Three species of the cottonwood tree

Species of cottonwood tree
Species of cottonwood tree | Image Credit – Flickr

Aigeiros, colloquially known as cottonwood trees, are three species in the Populus genus. Native to North America, Europe, and West Asia, the tree was recognized to have six species, but recent research shows there are only three species, and the remaining are subspecies. 

The three species are listed below

  • Populous deltoides 

A riparian zone tree, the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), is one of the largest North American hardwood: ironically, the wood of the trees are soft.

  • Populus fremontii

Native to the southwestern United States and western Mexico, the species has a subtle nuance compared to eastern cottonwood.

  • Populus nigra 

The species is native to Europe and western Asia. Much different from its contemporary species, the trees have distinctive characteristics.

2. Fastest growing trees in North America 

Frémont's Cottonwood at Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, Utah
Frémont’s Cottonwood at Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, Utah | Image Credit – Flickr

Eastern Cottonwood trees are the species to grow fastest in North America. Each year a young tree adds six feet or more in height. 

The rapid growth of the trees leads to a weakness that can be easily damaged. The species can grow up to 70 to 100 m in height and spread up to 50 to 70 feet. 

Populus fremontii, famous as Fremont cottonwood, can grow best in the presence of soil and sunlight. A large tree, the Fermont can grow from 39-115 in height with a trunk width measured up to 1.5 meters. 

The largest Populus fremontii known is in Arizona, USA. It measures up to a height of 102 feet With a circumference of 557 inches. 

Another species that generally reaches the height of 20-30m. Often addressed as black poplar, the species is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree. 

Usually, the trees’ diameters reach up to 1.5 meters. However, some trees in France have grown old enough to have a much larger trunk of around three meters. 

3. Food and accommodation  source for many species 

Nest in cottonwood tree
Nest in cottonwood tree | Image Credit – Pinterest

The cottonwood tree has great importance to the ecosystem. Animals such as field mice, rabbits, deer, and domestic livestock feed on the bark and leaves of the young cottonwood trees. 

Lepidoptera is an order of insects. It includes butterflies and moths. The prevalent insect order globally, the Lepidoptera, consists of 1,80,000 in 126 families and 46 superfamilies. 

The exciting part is that the caterpillar of the species feeds on the cottonwood tree. Because of the softwood of the cottonwood tree, the caterpillars can easily penetrate and devour it. 

The tree is used for courtship, roosting, and nesting by many species of birds. In addition to being a significant food source for the animals, the tree also serves a purpose as a home to thousands of birds.

When a tree loses its branch, the heartwood will rot at the break. A vast hollow space is created inside the branch. 

The area is an optimal accommodation for birds and squirrels to build their nests. 

4. Human purposes 

All About Cottonwood Trees: Facts & Uses | Video Credit – Wild Homestead Living

As important as it is for wild animals, the tree also serves its uses to humans. 

The inner bark of Fremont’s cottonwood contains vitamin C. Native Americans in the western United States, and Mexico used the parts of the tree as medicine. 

They chewed the parts of the tree as medicine for scurvy or treatment for vitamin C deficiency. The leaves can also be used as domestic animal fodder and herbal teas. 

Though cottonwood trees often exacerbate allergies in humans, the trees provide beauty and shade across the country. 

The bark and leaves are the main ingredients to make poultices to reduce inflammation or treat wounds. 

Before any fastest means of transportation, it was a time of waterways. The bark of the trees was used to build a canoe. 

5. Tool making purposes 

The woods from the trees are fragile, and it’s easy to build something from it. The Pima peoples of southern Arizona and northern Mexico understood it and started making intricate baskets using the twigs from the trees. 

Artisans love the cottonwood tree as it is their favorite medium as the bark is generally soft and easy to carve. The bark is usually harvested in the fall after a tree’s death.

The Cahuilla peoples of southern California used the tree’s wood for making tools. Many indigenous communities used the tree to build musical instruments: the pueblo peoples, native Americans in southwestern united states, created a drum out of the wood. 

The Quechan peoples use the wood from the tree in their ritual cremations. Performing the ritual to commemorate the lives of the deceased, the tribe carves the faces of the deceased in the wood from the cottonwood tree. The tribe layout the image and new clothes as an offering to the spirit of the dead. 

6. Poorest wood fuels 

Wood fuel is a readily available form of fuel. The burning of wood is the largest use of energy derived from solid fuel biomass. So many trees’ woods can be used as fuel.

However, cottonwood trees are one of the poorest wood fuels. There is a reason behind it. The wood soaks water like a sponge, and it takes a lot of time to dry up. Even when dried up from the outside, the wood doesn’t dry up from the inside. 

The woods are fibrous, meaning that it splits poorly. The woods, when burned, produce a low level of energy per unit of volume of wood. 

7. Misnomer during classifying the species 

In the past, six types of cottonwood trees were recognized as the species. After a long time of research, the environmentalist concluded that there are only three species of the cottonwood tree. The remaining three species are the subspecies of P. deltoides.

The first subspecies of P. deltoids is P. d. deltoids. The leaves of P. d. deltoids  is a triangular and broad, 7-15cm across the base. They are found in vermont south to north florida and west to about michigan. 

The second subspecies of P. deltoids is P. d. Monilifera. The tree is the state tree of some of the states of the United States, such as Nebraska, Wyoming, and Kansas. 

Another species is P.d. wislizeni, generally known as Rio Grande cottonwood. The species are prevalent in west Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. 

8. Every species has distinctive leaves.

Leaf from each species
Leaf from each species | Image Credit – Land Scape Plants

The Populus deltoides twigs are grayish-yellow and stout, with oversized triangle leaf scarfs. The identifying characteristics of the tree are the leaf: the leaf of the species is large, triangle 4-10 cm long, broad with a flattened base, and a petiole 3-12 cm long.   The leaves are emerald in the summer and turn yellow in the fall. The leaf tends to fall off from even the slightest breeze because of the flat system of the leaves.

The leaves of the P.fremontii are heart-shaped and 3-7 cm long. They have an elongated tip with white veins and coarse crenate teeth along the sides and are often stained with milky resin. 

The leaves of the third species of the Populus nigra are diamond-shaped to triangular with 5-8 cm long and 6-8 cm broad and glossy green on both surfaces. 

9. Cottonwood has genders

Male Cottonwood Tree
Male Cottonwood Tree | Image Credit – Flickr

Amazingly, cottonwood trees have genders, and we can quickly identify them. 

Male cottonwood trees produce pollen, and females produce cotton. The cotton is attached to help disperse the cottonwood seeds, so they don’t fall from the tree.

The seeds are potential offspring, producing them by the female tree. Some male species of the tree are banned because of the human allergy problem associated with the pollen.

10.  Oldest cottonwood tree

Removal of Balmville tree
Removal of Balmville tree | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

An old-growth eastern cottonwood, the balmville tree was growing at the intersection of river road, balmville road, and commonwealth avenue in balmville, new york. The tree has historical importance in the place. 

With numerous efforts to protect the tree by the locals and government, it was finally cut in 2015. 

Legends say that the tree grew when George Washington planted his walking stick when he and the continental army were encamped during the final years of the revolutionary war. 

However, the scientific research refutes the notion and concludes that the core samples of the trees have dated their growth to 1699, which was before American independence. 

In the mid 20th century, the tree suffered from advanced age and vandalism.

The tree was 25 feet in circumference at its base and 83 feet high at the time of its removal. 

Wrapping Up 

The article presents ten interesting facts about the Cottonwood tree. Cottonwood trees serve a lot of purposes. In the past, the furniture came as a product of the tree.

Every species of the Cottonwood Tree is distinctive. It provided accommodation and food for the animals and humans. 

To sum it all up, the tree is great for many purposes. The tree grows rapidly and we can use it abundantly without exploiting it. 

(Last Updated on April 11, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Saurav Khadka, with his A levels in computer science from Saipal Academy, owns a keen desire to know more about the environment. He wants to preach his knowledge to others by learning through his hobbies; reading, writing, traveling, and watching movies. He believes sharing his insight regarding a sustainable environment will undoubtedly generate positive perceptions in the people.