Eastern cottonwood is a tree that is often found growing in riparian areas, reaching more than 100 feet high and 8 feet in diameter.
Found throughout the southern states and east of the Rocky Mountains.
Simple, alternate, deciduous leaves with serrated edges; the heart-shaped leaves turn from light green to bright yellow in the fall.
Trees are male or female and flower in early spring. The catkins (flowers) on the male are 1-1/2 to 2 inches long, while the female produces a larger, 3 to 3-1/2 inch in length, which develops before the leaves.
Trees must be at least 10 years old before they will produce fruit.
The fruit are small capsules on slender pedicels, containing many light brown seeds with cottony hairs that are carried by the wind.
Wood is dark brown with white sapwood. It is easily worked and has been used for lumber, paper, crates, veneer, musical instruments and more.
Will grow from cuttings that are driven into the ground.
Eastern cottonwood provides good browse for cattle, deer and goats, and it provides excellent roost trees for wild turkeys. The seeds are also utilized by many bird species.
Eastern cottonwood has been propagated since 1750. The tree is valuable for stabilization of streams and riverbanks because it almost always grows near water. These trees were used as landscape markers by early settlers, leading to valuable water sources as they moved west.
Eastern cottonwood is known by several other names: Carolina poplar, Yellow cottonwood and Water poplar, but the most recognized by Texans would be “Alamo.” The Spanish gave this name to the trees surrounding the old Spanish mission that became the famous fort and Texas landmark for independence. “Remember the Alamo” was the battle slogan for the Texas-Mexico War.
Editor’s note: Kent Ferguson, retired rangeland management specialist from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is providing us with plant identification photo stories to help ranchers identify those forbs, forages and species growing in the pastures. Additional photos provided by USDA NRCS.
Eastern Cottonwood is excerpted from the December 2019 issue of The Cattleman magazine.
The Cattleman magazine is received monthly by TSCRA members as part of their membership in the organization.
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