Connected Sustainability | Eastern Cottonwood
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Populus deltoides W. Bartram

Eastern Cottonwood


How to Recognize Me

Native to eastern North America, Populus deltoides is a large, fast-growing, deciduous tree with a broad, open-rounded shape. Yellowish twigs, coarsely toothed leaves and gummy end buds distinguish this from other poplars. Each tree develops an extensive root system, but no clones sprout from the roots. Twigs that stick in the ground may sprout roots and grow.

Bark on mature trees is ridged and dark gray. It has triangular, acuminate, coarsely toothed, glossy dark green leaves up to 5” long that turn yellow in Autumn.
Male flowers are reddish but not showy. Female flowers give way to dehiscent capsules that split open when ripe, 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. Some all-male cultivars are available commercially that produce no cotton to clean up.


I Am Special to My Watershed

Populus deltoides is generally considered inappropriate for ornamental use. It is a particularly poor selection for urban areas because trees are messy, weak-wooded and their roots can buckle sidewalks and damage sewer lines. It may be effectively grown in rural areas in low spots or along streams where other large trees may not flourish. The tree is susceptible to a wide range of diseases including dieback, cankers, leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew. Insect visitors include borers, aphids, caterpillars and scale.

I Am Special to People

The wood is weak, warps easily and has little commercial value other than for crates, plywood and pulp. The so- called inner bark, the cambium, of the cottonwood is edible raw. It was eaten not only by North American natives but peoples in Europe and Asia. High in Vitamin C, the cambium was often cut into strips and boiled or dried, ground and mixed with flour to make bread and or mush.


The Facts

  • Height: 50’ to 80’
  • Spread: 35’ to 60’
  • Sun: full sun
  • Soil: medium to wet, well drained Bloom Time: March to April Bloom Description: red (male) and green (female)
  • Flower: tiny male and female flowers in separate catkins before spring foliage
  • Tolerate: drought, air pollution Suggested Use: shade tree,
  • rain garden, wetlands
Noted Trees