Cottonwoods are fast growing trees reaching 80-100’ x 70’. They prefer very wet soil, but will tolerate moderate moisture. A subspecies of Populus deltoids is Eastern Cottonwood. This is one of the few deciduous trees native to the Front Range. It is an important tree historically to the area and although not a good choice for planting along streets or near structures, it is an excellent choice for parks, open fields, along streams and rivers and as a property border. It has beautiful trunk and branch architecture and awesome yellow fall colors. There is a pleasing sound when the wind blows through the leaves thanks to the size, shape and flat design of the leaf petiole. Cottonwoods are important habitat trees for native creatures and lives 80-140 years.
Roots like to surface and cause significant trouble when near concrete or structures. Wounds often decay and create large cavities in the wood making them a hazard as the trees age. Structural pruning can be helpful in establishing sound branching to support the trees immense size as it matures. High risk for breaking in wind and snow loads if not thinned and reduced properly.
Trees are often afflicted with the Cytospora Canker which is a fungus that grows in the cambium of the tree slowly clogging up the vascular system causing branch dieback and eventual death. The Plains Cottonwood is significantly more resilient and resistant to this fungus than other varieties.
Aphids and Poplar Gall are the most common insect problem with this tree. Neither of which warrant suppression unless aesthetics of the tree are of major importance. Poplar borers are found, but uncommon and usually a minor issue.
Many hybrids both natural and man-made are available.
History and Use
A very rich history trails this species of tree. The Native American Indians used them in ceremony as well as for shelter and fuel as well as many other reasons. Currently the wood is harvested for low grade lumber and used in the manufacture of products like pallets, toothpicks and shipping crates. Wood carvers and bowl turners find it an easy medium for their tools to meander and it is gaining popularity as a furniture wood, but these are all on a small scale from local urban harvesting. Cottonwood can have a very fiery, eye pleasing grain, but it has to be handled very carefully during the drying process or it is unstable and unreliable to work with. Dan Odell with TC Woods in Lafayette, CO is starting to mill it into large beams to be used in timber framing. It rates quite low for use as firewood, but if handled properly it burns okay.
The national champion Plains Cottonwood tree is more than 300 years old, 36 feet around and 105 feet tall! It is located about a mile from Hygiene, Colorado on a closed property maintained by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. A viewing area is accessible from a short path off of Crane Hollow Rd. just North of Saint Vrain Rd. and just west of North 75th St. Call us if you want more details!