Common Name: Eastern cottonwood
Zone: 2 to 9
Range: Eastern and central North America
Height: 50 to 80 feet
Spread: 35 to 60 feet
Bloom Color: Red (male) and green (female)
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium to wet
Easily grown in average, medium wet to wet, well-drained soils in full sun. Prefers consistently moist soils, but tolerates drought. Each tree develops an extensive root system, but no clones sprout up therefrom as in the case of aspens. Twigs that stick in the ground may sprout roots and grow. Also known as Populus Deltoides.
Eastern cottonwood is a large, fast-growing, deciduous tree that typically grows 50-80’ (less frequently to 120’) tall with a broad, open-rounded shaped habit. Yellowish twigs, coarsely toothed leaves and gummy end buds distinguish this from the other poplars. It is native from eastern North America through the Great Plains, typically growing along streams and rivers and in lowland areas and swamps. Settlers who pushed westward into the Great Plains in the 1800s sometimes planted eastern cottonwoods along small streams and creeks. Tiny male and female flowers appear in separate catkins on separate male and female trees (dioecious). Flowers bloom in early spring (March-April) before the foliage emerges. Male flowers are reddish but not showy. Female flowers give way to dehiscent capsules that split open when ripe (May in St. Louis), broadcasting abundant densely-tufted seeds. Seeds with silky white hairs give the appearance of cotton as they blow through the air and along the ground, typically collecting along gutters, curbs, roadsides and fences. Bark on mature trees is ridged and dark gray. Triangular, acuminate, coarsely toothed, glossy dark green leaves (to 5” long). Leaves turn yellow in fall. Wood is weak and has little commercial value (warps easily) other than for crates, plywood and pulp. Specific epithet is in reference to the triangular or deltoid shape of the leaves.
Susceptible to a wide range of diseases including dieback, cankers, leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew. Insect visitors include borers, aphids, caterpillars and scale.
Generally considered inappropriate for ornamental use. A particularly poor selection for urban areas because trees are messy, weak-wooded and their roots can buckle sidewalks and damage sewer lines. May be effectively grown in rural areas in lowspots or along streams where other large trees may not flourish. Some all-male cultivars are available in commerce (no cotton to clean up).