Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia)

The Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the summer . The Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous white fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia) will reach up to 60 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 60 feet.

The Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Angustifolia) 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 low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -28°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Industry: Wood of narrow-leaf cottonwood is susceptible to decay and warps when cut into lumber. Because of this and its relative scarcity, it is commercially unimportant – used mostly for fenceposts and fuel, less commonly for crating, boxes, pallets, plywood veneer, and pulpwood; wood shavings are used for bedding, insulation, and animal food supplements.

Wildlife: Narrow-leaf cottonwood provides habitat, cover, and food for a diversity of wildlife. Common residents include squirrels, aquatic fur bearers, bears, white-tailed deer, and many bird species. Twigs and leaves are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose and buds and catkins are eaten by quail and grouse. Beaver cut all sizes of cottonwoods to build and maintain lodges and dams and use the bark for immediate food or storage in winter caches.

Conservation: Narrow-leaf cottonwood is planted as a fast-growing ornamental tree in western US cities. These trees can be used at high elevations and are useful in landscaping on deer winter ranges since deer will not damage them through overbrowsing. The species was early encountered (in1805) by the Lewis and Clark expedition, who observed that horses would not eat it.

The aggressively spreading root system of narrow-leaf cottonwood makes it useful for soil stabilization in erosion control and streambank reclamation projects. This same feature, however, may be a liability in urban areas where the roots may clog drains and sewers.

Ethnobotanic: Native Americans used young cottonwood shoots to make baskets.

General Characteristics

General: Willow Family (Salicaceae). Native trees up to 15-20 m tall, single-stemmed with slender, upright branches forming a narrowly spreading crown. The bark is yellowish green to grayish brown, smooth on upper portions and furrowed into broad, flat ridges on older lower portions. Leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate, lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate, rounded at base, 5-9(-13) cm long, 1-2.5 cm wide, hairless or nearly so, the margins glandular-toothed, dark green above and slightly paler beneath, turning dull yellow in autumn, the petioles less than 15 mm long, about 1/3 as long as the blade, flattened only near the base. Flowers male (staminate) and female (pistillate), are on separate trees (the species dioecious). Each type is borne in pendent catkins, the female elongating to 6-8 cm long. Fruits are ovoid, pointed capsules 6-8 mm long, splitting to release the seeds; seeds 2-3 mm long, each with a tuft of long, white, silky hairs (“cotton”), easily blown by the wind. The common name is in reference to the slender leaves.

Variation within the species: No variants have been recognized within the species, but natural hybrids are frequent between narrow-leaf cottonwood and other species:

balsam poplar (P. balsamifera) = P. x brayshawii Boivin (Brayshaw’s poplar);

eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides) = P. x acuminata Rydb. (lanceleaf poplar);

Fremont cottonwood (P. fremontii) = P. x hinckleyana Correll.

Required Growing Conditions

Narrow-leaf cottonwood occurs primarily in mountainous areas from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to Oregon and California (east of the Sierra Nevada), Arizona, New Mexico, and Trans-Pecos Texas and in northern Mexico (northeastern Sonora). For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Narrow-leaf cottonwood grows along streambanks in dry mountains, desert shrublands, and prairie grasslands and in coniferous forests with willows and alders, at elevations of 900-2450 meters. It is commonly found on narrow, periodically flooded benches adjacent to streams and smaller rivers. Common associates are Douglas-fir, blue spruce, ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, maples, birches, alders, other cottonwoods and aspen; in relatively undisturbed sites, the understory often includes red-osier dogwood, chokecherry, serviceberry, willows, and currants.

Narrow-leaf cottonwood is a pioneer that colonizes sandbars and other fresh alluvium in areas of full sun. Such sites tend to become dominated by a dense, closed canopy of cottonwood. Continual disturbances such as flood and fire allow such communities to persist.

This species flowers in May, before or during leaf emergence and fruits May-July, with seed dispersal in June-July.

Cultivation and Care

Flowering begins at about 15 years in narrow-leaf cottonwood. Male and female trees must be grown in proximity if seed is desired. Large seed crops are produced each year but seeds are viable for probably no more than 3 weeks. They establish only if they land on unoccupied, wet, sandy soil in full sun. Flood disturbance along waterways enhances seedling recruitment, and periodic fires may serve the same purpose – removing competing conifers, allowing more light penetration, and exposing mineral soil. Narrow-leaf cottonwood is a fast-growig but short-lived species in natural conditions.

Narrow-leaf cottonwood reproduces vegetatively by sprouting from roots and stumps.

General Upkeep and Control

Because of its short period of viability seed needs to be sown within a few days of ripening in the spring. Otherwise they may be kept viable by drying and storing cold in an airtight container. In a cold frame, sow on the surface or lightly cover the seeds. Plant into permanent positions either in late summer or the following spring, depending on growth of the young plants.

Cuttings of twigs 20–45 cm long and 1-3 cm diameter of the current season's growth, taken during the dormant season, can be placed in a sheltered outdoor bed or directly into permanent positions. Initial growth of un-rooted cuttings may not be as rapid as that of rooted cuttings. Cuttings grown in a mist-propagator also root easily and survive potting. Nursery- or container-grown seedlings and rooted cuttings establish easily and grow rapidly on moist well-drained soils in full sun. Growth may be minimal on wet soils and upland sites.

Beaver activities may inhibit cottonwood regeneration; seedlings and saplings are stripped of bark for food and larger trees are cut for building material. Poorly oxygenated water in stagnant ponds causes a decline in health. Severe grazing by livestock, and associated trampling of seedlings, reduces cottonwood regeneration potential.

The aggressive root systems can invade and damage drainage systems and also may heavily draw available moisture from gardens and building foundations, especially in clay soil. Root suckers also may be considered a maintenance problem, and the profuse production of cottony seed from female plants can be a minor nuisance.

Narrow-leaf cottonwood will produce stump sprouts and root suckers after light to moderate intensity fires. Seedlings, saplings, and young trees are damaged or killed by fire, but they develop more fire-resistant bark after 15-20 years of age. Older trees may be killed by even relatively cool fires, which wound trees and open the way to heartwood decay. Where spruce is climax, periodic fire may contribute to the maintenance of cottonwood stands, but mature bottomland hardwood stands will not persist in the face of fire.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 60
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Rapid
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -28
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Minimum Frost-Free Days 115 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

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