Cottonwood trees are part of the Willow family and part of the Poplar Genus. The female trees are easy to recognize in the spring when they release fluffy, cotton-like covered seeds (the males release pollen). They typically grow near water, although they can do well in dry soils, too, if they’re grown there from the beginning. If you see a grove of cottonwoods, you can be almost sure there is a source of water nearby. Since these trees are so dependent on water, they will sometimes drop their leaves during an extended dry spell.
As you can see from these pictures, Cottonwood trees require a lot of space because they grow to be large trees. Their roots will lift the surrounding soil (known as “root flair”) as the tree matures, so homeowners should give plenty of space between their trees and sidewalks, patios and other landscape features.
These trees have a soft trunk and limbs, and so they tend to be prone to wood decay, leaf blight and pests such as epidermal miners. Because of their weak wood, they will drop branches occasionally, especially during windy seasons. Cottonwoods are beautiful trees but do present some challenges. They should always be treated and maintained by an arborcare professional.
Jeff Ling is a Registered Consulting Arborist and Co-Founder of TreeMasters, Inc., a full service arbor-care company, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It services tree owners with scientific tree management services throughout Indiana, southern Michigan and western Ohio.