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Eastern Cottonwood

Eastern cottonwood
Populus deltoides subsp. monilifera
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Salicaceae
Genus: Populus
Section: Aigeiros
Species: P. deltoides
Binomial name
Populus deltoides
W.Bartram ex Humphry Marshall

Populus deltoides, the eastern cottonwood, is a cottonwood poplar native to North America, growing throughout the eastern, central, and southwestern United States, the southernmost part of eastern Canada, and northeastern Mexico.[1]


Populus deltoides is a large tree growing to 20–40 m (67–130 ft) tall and with a trunk up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft) diameter, one of the largest North American hardwood trees. The bark is silvery-white, smooth or lightly fissured when young, becoming dark gray and deeply fissured on old trees. The twigs are grayish-yellow and stout, with large triangular leaf scars. The winter buds are slender, pointed, 1–2 cm long (.039–0.79 inches), yellowish brown, and resinous.

The leaves are large, deltoid (triangular), 4–10 cm (1.6–3.9 inches) long and 4–11 cm (1.6–4.3 inches) broad with a truncated (flattened) base and a petiole 3–12 cm (1.2–4.7 inches) long. The leaf is very coarsely toothed, the teeth are curved and gland tipped, and the petiole is flat; they are dark green in the summer and turn yellow in the fall (but many cottonwoods in dry locations drop their leaves early from the combination of drought and leaf rust, making their fall color dull or absent). Due to the flat stem of the leaf, the leaf has the tendency to shake from even the slightest breeze. This is one of the identifying characteristics.[2]

It is dioecious, with the flowers (catkins) produced on single-sex trees in early spring. The male (pollen) catkins are reddish-purple and 8–10 cm (2.1–3.9 inches) long; the female catkins are green, 7–13 cm (2.8–5.1 inches) long at pollination, maturing 15–20 cm (6.9–7.9 inches) long with several 6–15 mm (0.24–0.59 inches) seed capsules in early summer, which split open to release the numerous small seeds attached to cotton-like strands.[3][4][5]


The species is divided into three subspecies[1][6] or up to five varieties.[7] The subspecies classification is as follows:

  • Populus deltoides subsp. deltoides, eastern cottonwood is found in southeastern Canada (the south of Ontario and Quebec) and the eastern United States (throughout, west to North Dakota to Texas).
  • P. d. monilifera (Aiton) Eckenw., the plains cottonwood (syn. P. deltoides var. occidentalis Rydb.; P. sargentii Dode) ranges from southcentral Canada (southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) to the central United States and south to northern New Mexico and Texas.
  • P. d. wislizeni (S.Watson) Eckenw., the Rio Grande cottonwood (syn. P. wislizeni (S.Watson) Sarg.; P. fremontii var. wislizeni S.Watson) grows from southern Colorado south through Texas to northeastern Mexico (Chihuahua, San Luis Potosi), and west to Arizona (presence in California, listed by GRIN,[1] is doubtful, not included in the Jepson Flora of California[8]).


It needs bare soil and full sun for successful germination and establishment; in natural conditions, it usually grows near rivers, with mud banks left after floods providing ideal conditions for seedling germination; human soil cultivation has allowed it to increase its range away from such habitats.[5]

The leaves serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera (List of Lepidoptera that feed on poplars).

In vitro culture

A high frequency direct plant regeneration protocol has been described by Rakesh Yadav et al., 2009.

Oldest and largest

Eastern cottonwoods typically live 70 to 100 years, but they have the potential to live 200 to 400 years if they have a good growing environment.

Currently, the Balmville Tree is the oldest eastern cottonwood in the United States.

  • The US national champion Populus deltoides var. deltoides is located in Sheridan County, Kansas and measures 96 ft. (29.3 m) tall, 127 ft. (38.7 m) wide with a trunk diameter at 4 1/2 ft. (1.4 m) of 35 ft. 7 in. (10.85 m) in circumference.[9]
  • The US national champion Populus deltoides var. monilifera is located in Ravalli County, Montana and measures 112 ft. (34.1 m) tall, 94 ft. (28.65 m) wide with a trunk diameter at 4 1/2 ft. (1.4 m) of 32 ft. 10 in. (10 m) in circumference.[10]
  • The US national champion Populus deltoides var. wislizeni is located in Bernalillo County, New Mexico and measures 84 ft. (25.6 m) tall, 83 ft. (25.3 m) wide with a trunk diameter at 4 1/2 ft. (1.4 m) of 32 ft. 9 in. (10 m) in circumference.[11]

The largest recorded cottonwood tree in the world is the Frimley Park tree located in Hastings, New Zealand.[12]


Calling the cottonwood tree "the pioneer of the prairie", the Kansas state legislature designated the cottonwood the official state tree of Kansas in 1937.


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