Eastern cottonwood

Populus deltoides
Family: Salicaceae

Natural Historyeastern cottonwood branch
Leaves of eastern cottonwood
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

The eastern cottonwood is a member of the willow family (Salicaceae). Fast-growing yet relatively short-lived, cottonwoods are easily distinguished by their triangular- (or deltoid-) shaped leaves that easily flutter in the wind.

Habitat & Range

This tree species occurs from Alberta east to Quebec and south to Florida, Texas, Arizona, and northern Mexico. It is shade-intolerant and found on rich, moist sites often near rivers and streams.

Wildlife Use

Eastern cottonwood seedlings and young trees are browsed upon by a variety of mammals including rabbits, deer, and domestic livestock. Beavers are known to use cottonwood poles for construction of their dams. The poplar petiole gall aphid (Pemphigus populitransversus) lays its eggs on cottonwood leaves, producing characteristic marble-sized galls where the petiole meets the blade of the leaf.

Human Use

Eastern cottonwood has limited timber use. The wood is light, soft, and weak. Nonetheless, it is still utilized in the making of containers, furniture parts, and high-grade pulp.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Eastern cottonwood is a medium-sized tree that reaches heights of 50’to 100’ in height.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. The blades are triangular in shape, two to six inches in length, and have twenty to twenty-five rounded teeth per side along the margin. Underside is smooth and a pale green. The petiole is distinctively flattened, making the leaf flap from side to side rather than up and down.
Twigs: The yellowish twigs are stout and contain a bitter aspirin taste.
Bark: Light gray-brown and smooth with shallow grooves on young trees. Mature trees have deep grooves with thick ridges and are light brown to ash-gray in color.
Flowers: This is a dioecious tree species. Both male and female flowers are pendulous catkins.
Fruit: Conical capsule 5 to 9 inches in length borne on pendent stalks, 8 to 12 inches long.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:



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