Eastern Cottonwood (Deltoides)

The Eastern Cottonwood (Deltoides) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until spring. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Eastern Cottonwood (Deltoides) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Eastern Cottonwood (Deltoides) will reach up to 190 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 80 feet.

The Eastern Cottonwood (Deltoides) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a rapid ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -43°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Timber: The wood of eastern cottonwood is light, soft, and weak. It is not durable, warps badly in drying, and is difficult to season. It is used principally for containers, interior parts of furniture, corestock in plywood, and high-grade pulp.

Erosion control: It is planted on strip mine spoils for erosion control and wood production. Male, non-hybrid adapted clones make good selections for windbreaks in multi-row installations.

Recreation: Due to its rapid growth rate, it is frequently used for providing quick shade around recreational developments, campsites and picnic areas.

Landscape and beautification: This species is occasionally planted as an ornamental shade tree, however caution should be used because the tree grows large and is susceptible to wind and ice damage.

Wildlife: Seedlings and young trees are browsed by rabbits, deer, and domestic stock. Beavers use saplings and poles for food and dam construction.

General Characteristics

Populus deltoides Bartr. ex Marsh., eastern cottonwood, is a fast-growing tree which reaches 80 to l00 feet in height and 3 to 4 feet in diameter. It is a relatively short-lived tree, seldom surviving for more than 80 years.

The leaves are broadly triangular, ovate in outline, 3 to 5 inches long and nearly as wide. They are dark green, lustrous above, and paler and smooth beneath. The marginal teeth are somewhat hooked, being larger toward the leaf base and smaller toward the pointed tip.

Twigs are rather stout, round, and distinctly enlarged at the nodes. The conical, pointed buds are smooth, glossy, and olive-brown to reddish-brown in color. The bark of younger trees is rather smooth and greenish-gray. On older trunks it becomes ashy-gray and is roughened by long, deep, longitudinal and interconnecting furrows.

Required Growing Conditions

Cottonwood makes its best growth on moist, well-drained, fine sandy loams or silt loams. Coarse sands and heavy clay soils are not satisfactory. It has been found to be relatively tolerant of drier sites as shown by survival and growth of trees planted on strip mine spoil. Cottonwood is resistant to flood damage and usually tolerates a soil pH range of 4.5 to 8.0.

Eastern cottonwood is distributed throughout the East and Midwest.

Cultivation and Care

Natural regeneration of cottonwood is usually by seed. Propagation by cuttings is the usual method of vegetative reproduction. The best planting stock is unrooted cuttings from 1 to 3 year old seedlings. Cuttings are planted while dormant with sufficient cultivation to reduce competition.

General Upkeep and Control

If this tree is planted for intensive culture management care must be taken to reduce completion from weed and other unwanted vegetation. On wide spacing, disking between the rows can be used to control vegetation. Care must also be taken to avoid over grazing by deer and other animals. Around buildings the plant may prove to be a nuisance. The silky-haired seeds of the female plants can clog gutters and the shallow root system may interfere with sewer lines.

Pests and Potential Problems Eastern cottonwood can be seriously damaged by wood boring insects that attacks the main stem, branches and root system. Many leaf feeding insects can also reduce the growth and vigor of young trees. Leaf rust, leaf spot, and cankers reduce tree vigor and growth and in severe cases cause tree mortality.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) ‘Siouxland’ cottonwood, is highly resistant to leaf rust and similar leaf attacking fungi. ‘Siouxland’ is a male plant, and therefore, does not produce the silky-haired cotton which many people consider a nuisance. Since there is no seed, the plant must be grown from cuttings.

Populus robusta, which is most likely a cross between Populus nigra and Populus angulata, is very similar to ‘Siouxland’ in appearance except that it is narrower and branches more widely. The foliage is also resistant to rust fungi. Populus robusta is a frost hardy, rapid grower. Other selections include ‘Noreaster’, ‘Mighty Mo’, ‘Platte’, ‘Ohio Red’, ‘Lydick’, ‘Schictel’, ‘Spike’(cross between Populus deltoides and Populus nigra, from the New York Plant Materials Center, original material from the Netherlands) and ‘Walker’. These selections show various levels or resistance from leaf rust and canker infestations.  Rooted cuttings and seedlings of ‘Siouxland’ and Populus robusta can be purchased from many hardwood nurseries. Other selections are more difficult to obtain, but worth the effort.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 190
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Spring
Seed Spread Rate Rapid
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -43
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.6–6.5 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 170–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA