IUCN threat status:

Not evaluated

Comprehensive Description

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This native deciduous tree is 60-120' tall at maturity. It develops a single stout trunk up to 4-6' across and forms an ovoid crown in open situations. The trunk bark of mature trees is thick, gray, and coarsely ridged. The abundant branches are ascending above and drooping below; they are somewhat crooked and knobby. Branch bark is light gray to gray-brown and fairly smooth. Alternate leaves are 4-5" long and 3-4" across; they are deltate-ovate in shape and crenate-dentate along their margins. The teeth of the leaves are slightly hooked. Individual leaves have flat bottoms and slender tips. The upper leaf surfaces are medium green and glabrous, while their lower surfaces are pale green, hairless, and dull. Leaf venation is pinnate. The slender petioles are nearly as long as the leaf blades; they are light green, glabrous, and somewhat flattened. Eastern Cottonwood is dioecious; individual trees produce either all male (staminate) flowers or all female (pistillate) flowers. These flowers are produced during the spring before the leaves develop in the form of drooping catkins about 2-3" long. Male catkins occur in clusters of 2-4 near the tips of branches, while female catkins are produced individually. Each male catkin is bright red or yellow and cylindrical in shape, consisting of a dense mass of nearly sessile male florets. Each male floret consists of a dish-shaped basal disk and 20-60 reddish or yellowish stamens. At the base of each male floret, there is a fringed bract. Each female catkin is green and cylindrical in shape, consisting of many female florets on slender petioles (see photo of Female Catkin). Each female floret consists of a dish-shaped basal disk and a single ovoid pistil about 8 mm. (1/3") long. Each pistil has 3-4 flattened stigmata with undulate margins. At the base of each female floret, there is a fringed bract. The florets are wind-pollinated. Afterwards, the male catkins wither away, while the female catkins elongate to 4-6" in length while developing their fruits. During early to mid-summer, these fruits split open to release their seeds. Each fruit releases about 30-50 seeds with cottony hairs. The seeds are distributed by the wind and can travel several hundred feet in the air. They also float on water and can travel downstream. Individual seeds are about 2 mm. long. The woody root system is shallow and branching. This tree reproduces by reseeding itself. Cultivation


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers


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