also known as eastern cottonwood, Carolina poplar, eastern poplar, and
necklace poplar, is one of the tallest eastern hardwoods. It grows to heights
of 150 - 200 feet. It has a tall, straight trunk, typically with a diameter
of up to 8 feet (a cottonwood in Grundy County, Illinois reportedly has
a trunk diameter of 9 feet). The crown is oblong or spreading and broadly
rounded with some hanging branches.
cottonwood grows along streams in floodplains and in bottomland woods.
It is present in almost every county in Illinois, but is most abundant
along the rivers and streams and in bottomland woods. It has a wide distribution
in the Eastern United States, and is only notably absent there from the
higher areas in the Appalachians. It extends on the northern edge of its
range from Quebec to North Dakota, south to Texas and back east to Georgia
and northwestern Florida.
cottonwood prefers well-drained fine sandy or silty loam soils. In the
lower Mississippi River Valley, it reportedly grows best on the land between
levees and the river, on banks and ridges of former stream courses and
well-drained lowland flats. The seedlings require moist mineral soil for
development and are easily damaged by fungus and prolonged periods on time
in hot sun.
The roots are initially so slow to develop that the seedling is at risk of being dislodged by raindrops. After several weeks, root growth accelerates. Overall growth of cottonwood is very rapid, but the tree is short-lived. Cottonwood is very shade intolerant. It is a good pioneer (first to colonize an area) species because of its rapid growth and size. It does not respond well to crowding and does not respond to gaps with a growth spurt. It doesn't survive prolonged flooding as well as willow and therefore tends to occupy the slightly higher, drier sites in the floodplain.
cottonwood bark is smooth and yellow green to gray when young, becoming
ash brown to gray, corky, and deeply furrowed with age.
are tan or yellowish green to gray and smooth with noticeable lenticels
(small openings or spongy areas in the cork surfaces that facilitate gas
exchange between internal tissues and the atmosphere through the bark).
buds are 1/4 - 1/2 inch long, yellow green, and pointed. They may also
The leaves are alternate, simple, and roughly triangular. They are up to 6 inches long and from 3-6 inches broad. They are pointed at the tip, with coarse, rounded teeth at the edges. The base is cut straight across, or slightly rounded. They are shiny green above and paler beneath. The leafstalks are up to 4 inches long, and often yellow and flattened.
cottonwood is dioecious; male and female flowers are borne on separate
trees. The flowers appear as the leaves begin to unfold very early in the
spring. Both male and female flowers are crowded into catkins, the male
flowers in thick, reddish-colored catkins and the female flowers in slender
are small elliptic, greenish-brown capsules, 1/4 inch long. They hang in
clusters, each containing numerous seeds with the familiar cottony hairs
that aid in wind dispersal.
cottonwood wood is light-weight and soft. It is used for pulpwood and fuel.
It is planted as an ornamental for shade and there is interest in developing
it as a a source of cellulose in cattle feed because the new growth is
high in protein and minerals and relatively free of tannin.