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Are Cottonwood Trees Very Good for Fire Wood?

By Ethan Shaw ; Updated September 21, 2017
Cottonwood can be a practical firewood, especially when used in conjunction with other woods.

Indigenous North Americans and early explorers utilized cottonwood for heating and cooking fires. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, for example, relied on riparian cottonwoods in otherwise treeless stretches of the Great Plains for these purposes. In general, however, cottonwood has a mediocre reputation as a firewood.

Heating Value

Because of its lightness, cottonwood does not produce a lot of heat, and it tends to burn out fairly quickly. The California Energy Commission reports that the tree generates between 15.8 and 16.8 BTUs (British thermal units) per cord.

Utility

Properly cured cottonwood is easy to cut and quick to light, so it can be a good choice for kindling, incorporated into fires with hotter and longer burning logs such as those of ash or oak.

Smoke and Ash

Burned cottonwood tends to produce quite a bit of ash. Wet cottonwood may smoke prolifically, but well-dried logs often don’t produce much smoke at all. As with any firewood, it’s important to season logs adequately to allow them to dry out -- often six months to a year.

 

About the Author

 

Ethan Shaw is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written extensively on outdoor recreation, ecology and earth science for outlets such as Backpacker Magazine, the Bureau of Land Management and Atlas Obscura. Shaw holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.