Plant Profile: Populus deltoides, Eastern Cottonwood

Figure 1. Populus deltoides.

By Jeffrey Petterson and Ashley Knight

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University.

Family: Salicaceae (Willow)

Populus deltoides (figure 1) is a North American hardwood tree. It is usually found by rivers or mud-banks and in canyons or valleys. They specifically like the swamps of Florida’s panhandle.

Figure 2. Toothed leaf margins.
Cottonwood bark is yellow green in the adolescent stage and gray when mature. The alternating leaves are large and triangular with toothed edges (figure 2). The tree is dioecious or having male flowers on separate trees from those that have female flowers. The flowers bloom in the spring with purple male catkins and green female catkins. The ‘male’ cottonwood produces pollen, which is carried by the wind to fertilize the ‘female’ cottonwood. The ‘female’ trees have a cottony seed inside the capsule that matures in summer. These seeds create cotton- like clouds that are helpful for wind-dispersal (figure 3).

Figure 3. “Cottony” seeds.
Fun Facts
  • P. deltoides is a larval host and/or nectar source for both the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) and Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) butterflies.
  • Cottonwood can grow up to 100 ft tall and 60 ft wide, and quickly! As a result they are often used for making paper products.
  • Early Kansas settlers frequently planted this tree because of its fast-growing habit; as such, Eastern Cottonwood is referred to as the state's "pioneer tree."


Image Sources
Figure 1., Credit: J. S. Peterson
Figure 2., Credit: Erv Evans
Figure 3., Credit: G. Edward Johnson


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