Fremont Cottonwood (Fremontii)

The Fremont Cottonwood (Fremontii) 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 early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until spring. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Fremont Cottonwood (Fremontii) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Fremont Cottonwood (Fremontii) will reach up to 90 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 50 feet.

The Fremont Cottonwood (Fremontii) 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 moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -13°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: The sweet and starchy sap can be consumed raw or cooked. The bark is bitter, but edible. It can be scraped off and eaten, cooked in strips like soup noodles, or dried and powdered as a flour substitute. The inner bark of cottonwoods and aspens were used for man and horse in hard times. Some Indians preferred it because of its sweetness. The active biochemical constituents are salicin and populin, the precursors of aspirin that are useful wherever a fever needs reducing or an anti-inflammatory is appropriate (Moore 1979). The bark is the most effective part for tea but is rather bitter; for this reason the leaves are often preferred. Leaf buds make an excellent ointment for burns and skin irritations. A wash of the bark is applied externally for cuts, bruises, abrasions, burns and fetid perspiration, as well as healing chafing sores on horses. A poultice can be used for sprains, muscle pain, and swollen joints. A salve can be made that cleanses and conditions the skin when used regularly. Taken internally, it is an anti-inflammatory agent, reduces fever, indigestion, aids coughs from colds, expels worms and intestinal parasites, is effective against scurvy, heart troubles, back pain, excessive menses, urinary tract infections, is a diuretic, and is used to prevent premature birth.

The Hopi Indians of Arizona consider the cottonwood tree sacred and carve Kachina dolls from the roots of the tree. They believe the rustle of the wind through the quaking leaves to be the gods speaking to people (Strike 1994).

Several California tribes used Populus roots to make loosely twined baskets. The Hupa, from Northern California, use cottonwood roots to begin making twined baskets. The Maidu and Yokuts Indians use cottonwood twigs in their basketry (Strike 1994).

Chumash skirts were made of fibers of Populus inner bark. Cordage, made from the inner bark of cottonwood or milkweed, held the rest of the fibers hanging freely. Sometimes small teardrop-shaped pieces of asphaltum, shell beads or Pinus seeds were used as weights to make the fibers hang properly. Wintun also used Populus fibers for skirts and for padding baby cradles.

Other Uses: Ecological diversity, bank and sediment stabilization, maintenance of channel morphology, water quality improvement, ground-water recharge, flood abatement, fish and wildlife habitat.

Riparian Ecosystem Services and Functions: The riparian zone essentially encompasses those alluvial sediment deposits where river and alluvial ground water supplement that available from local precipitation. High-to-low elevations, north-south and east-west gradients, and steep-to-shallow terrain all influence the relationship between geomorphic and fluvial processes and vegetation community structure. Riparian ecosystem functions include the following: • Ecological diversity. • Riparian vegetation stabilizes sediment, thus preventing excessive soil erosion. • Water quality is improved through filtration and trapping of sediment, nutrients and pollutants. • Riparian vegetation tends to prevent the river from down-cutting or cutting a straight path (channeling), thus promoting a sinuous course, ground-water recharge, and maintenance of an elevated water table. • Structurally complex riparian vegetation communities provide many different habitats and support a diverse array of animal species. Different groups of animals occupy or use the different layers of vegetation, and this multi-story arrangement is often present nowhere else in the arid landscapes. • Canopies of plants growing on streambanks provide shade, cooling stream water, while roots stabilize and create overhanging banks, providing habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms

Riparian habitat provides living conditions for a greater variety of wildlife than any other habitat type found in California. Use of riparian areas by wildlife species is affected by diversity and volume of foliage, presence of water, availability

General Characteristics

Willow Family (Salicaceae). Fremont’s cottonwood is a native tree growing in riparian areas near streams, rivers and wetlands in the American Southwest. Fremont's cottonwood trees range from 12 to 35 meters in height, and trunk diameter ranges from 0.30 to 1.5 meters. The bark is smooth in younger trees, becoming deeply furrowed with whitish cracked bark with age. The leaves are cordate (heart-shaped) with white veins and coarse crenate-serrate teeth on the margins. The leaves have petioles 1/2 to equal the blade length, laterally compressed near the blade which causes the leaves to flutter in the wind. These trees are dioecious, with flowers in drooping catkins, which are 4 to 14 cm long. Cottonwoods bloom from March-April. The fruit is an achene, which is attached to a silky hair, en masse looking like patches of cotton hanging from the limbs, thus the name cottonwood. The seeds are wind dispersed.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. Populus fremontii is distributed throughout the Southwest, extending from California eastward to Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and southward into Mexico. This species occurs throughout California and is most abundant in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. According to Hickman (1993), cottonwood occurs in alluvial bottomlands and streamsides at elevations less than 2000 m.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Cottonwoods dominate the riparian forests of lower terrace deposits and stabilized gravel bars. Cottonwoods are found near water. They require a bare gravel or sand substrate with adequate moisture for germination and development. Cottonwoods grow very rapidly when their roots are in contact with the permanent water table; they can grow as much as 12 to 18 feet in 3 years.

In California, common associates are valley oak (Quercus lobata), interior live oak (Quercus wislizenii), California walnut (Juglans hindsii), and California sycamore (Platanus racemosa). Box elder (Acer negundo), Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia), alder (Alnus rhombifolia), and willow (Salix gooddingii, S. exigua, S. lasiandra, and S. laevigata) are particularly prevalent in the subcanopy. Understory species are mostly shrubs, including elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), blackberry (Rubus spp), and California rose (Rosa californica). Lianas such as poison oak (Rhus diversiloba ) and California grape (Vitis californica are) are a dominant feature. Herbaceous vegetation is 1% cover except in openings where tall forbs may occur.

Typically, in California, cottonwoods and willows predominate on the immediate stream banks, whereas valley oaks are spread irregularly over the natural levees farther away from the river. In other parts of the American west, temporal gradients occur within a location in the riparian zone. Early pioneer communities such as cottonwood/willow give way to late successional communities such as mesquite or sagebrush, often a consequence of sediment accumulation (Patten 1998). Many similarities among western riparian ecosystems exist because several dominant genera (e.g. Populus and Salix spp.) are common throughout the West, and many geomorphic and hydrologic processes that influence riparian establishment are similar.

Western riparian ecosystems have been greatly altered by human activity. Riparian forests have been reduced to fragmented, discontinuous patches because of human intervention. For example, estimates are that 70 - 90 percent of the natural riparian ecosystems in the U.S. have been lost to human activities (Warner 1979). Regional losses in these ecosystems have been estimated to exceed 98% in the Sacramento Valley in California (Smith 1977) and 95% in Arizona (Warner 1979). Many factors have contributed to these resource losses, including the following: natural resource use; urbanization; alteration of stream flows through dam construction and ground-water withdrawal; modification of biotic conditions through grazing, agriculture, and introduction of non-native species; and alteration within watersheds (Patten 1998).

Restoration: Use of an ecosystem model of riparian restoration has been used to create a functioning and self-sustaining habitat. The long term objective is to create a framework within which natural selective forces can operate to create a self-sustaining, functioning riparian habitat that not only provides habitat for a complete assemblage of riparian species, but which is also capable of long-term regeneration and recovery following natural disturbances (Baird 1989). Careful design, monitoring, and adaptive

General Upkeep and Control

Howe and Knopf (1991) conclude that to ensure the survival of cottonwood riparian communities along the Rio Grande resource managers need to implement strategies to enhance cottonwood regeneration and survival, and control the spread of exotic species.

Decadent age structures in cottonwood forest consist of stands composed of large old trees but few saplings or small trees. Several studies have implicated unregulated livestock grazing as an important cause of decadent age structures in cottonwood forests (Brotherson et al. 1983; Fenner et al. 1984; Rucks 1984; Shanfield 1984). Glinski (1977) showed a negative correlation between grazing levels and Fremont's cottonwood recruitment. Several studies showed fewer cottonwood seedlings in grazed than in non-grazed areas (Crouch 1979; Reichenbacher 1984).

Livestock grazing has widely been identified as a leading factor causing or contributing to degradation of riparian habitats in the western United States (U.S. General Accounting Office 1988; Chaney et al. 1990, Fleischner 1994, Ohmart 1996). Livestock grazing can alter vegetative structure and composition of riparian habitat. Overgrazing, especially by livestock and big game, frequently changes plant species composition and growth form, density of stands, vigor, seed production of plants, and insect production. Bull and Slovlin (1982) attributed to livestock grazing the paucity of deciduous woody vegetation that was required by some bird species along Oregon streams.

Schulz and Leininger (1991) found that bird species are differentially affected by cattle grazing in riparian areas. Livestock grazing causes the replacement of bird and mammal species requiring the vertical vegetation structure of riparian habitat to species, which are ubiquitous in their habitat p

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 90
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Spring
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -13
Soil Depth for Roots 32
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 32
Minimum Frost-Free Days 165 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No

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