Cottonwood trees get their name from the fluffy cotton-like seeds produced by the female tree. These trees have been very important to the native people living in North America. Life on the wild prairie plains was very harsh, and trees were a rarity in the grasslands. This meant that finding shade or collecting firewood was a very difficult. However, cottonwood trees were an exception to this rule. They thrive easily on the grasslands and are found across North America and many parts of Europe and Asia. These humongous trees are a major part of American forest ecosystems, especially those that are near water bodies such as rivers and lakes. Let's look at some more information of these amazing creations of nature.
Landscaping TipAlthough cottonwood trees are really attractive and add to the appeal of their surroundings, their immense size makes them unsuitable for small yards. Plant cottonwoods only if your house has a large expanse of outdoor land for maximum effect.
There are three major tree species that classify as cottonwoods. As such we shall now learn a few interesting facts about eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), Fremont's cottonwood (Populus fremontii), and black poplar (Populus nigra).
These trees come under the USDA hardiness rating of zone 2-9. Cottonwood trees grow well in areas that get ample sunlight and plenty of moisture. They are best grown in soil that is sandy or silty in nature, with intermediate drainage capability. This makes areas near rivers, lakes, and marshes ideal for their growth, and don't require much care to thrive.
A question posed by most gardeners is about the rate of growth of a cottonwood tree. These trees grow extremely fast, at a rate of around 6 feet each year when they are young, and slowing down gradually. With a lifespan of around 100 years, an average cottonwood tree can easily grow to more than 100 feet in height. The tree can have a trunk diameter of 6 feet, while the canopy can extend to more than 75 feet wide. Eastern poplars can grow up to heights of 200 feet.
Cottonwood Tree Uses
In olden times, cottonwood trunks were used for make canoes, the tree bark was used to prepare tea, or used as a food supplement for horses. Sprouts and inner bark of the trees were used as a food ingredient. Also, since the trees were few and far apart, they were used as markers or meeting places.
Nowadays, the trees are used for shade in large park and marsh areas. The rich yellow golden foliage in the fall, makes it a wonderful landscape addition. They are also often used to create windbreaks, because they grow so fast. Wood pulp of the tree is used to make high quality paper, or the wood is used to make boxes and crates. These trees are often planted in nature reserves, because they become suitable homes for animals, birds, and insects such as bees, eagles, raccoons, squirrels, etc.
Diseases and Other Problems
Only the female cottonwood trees bear seeds with their cotton-like extensions. During springtime, these seeds cause serious litter problems, by almost entirely covering large stretches of ground. Also, the seeds may contribute to allergic reactions. The high rate of growth compromises on the strength of the wood, making it vulnerable to decay, fungal infections like blight, and pests such as borer. It also makes the wood bad for lumber usage.
Narrowleaf cottonwood trees generate large amounts of suckers from their, which can cause excess saplings in the location. These trees also shed a lot of leaves, making cleaning up tedious.
Other Interesting Facts
- Usually, only male cottonwood saplings are sold in nurseries, even though it is legal to grow both genders.
- Production of cottony seeds indicates the end of pollination in a tree.
- The light seeds are carried by wind, for propagation, and can spread up to 6 miles away.
- The thick bark of a cottonwood tree is a very good form of protection from heat and fire. In fact, the trees can even survive droughts and forest fires.