The wonderful world of Cottonwood

Eastern Cottonwood on the banks of the Mississippi in St. Paul, MN

Cottonwood…cottonwood… yeah… Not the most popular tree in our great state.  They make an awful mess in the spring right around graduation time and they’re not the strongest lumber on the planet.  Half the suburbs in the Twin Cities have bans on planting them in your yard because of the storm hazard and mess in the spring.

I’ve always felt they were unfairly judged though.  I don’t think they’re great street trees by any means (who wants a tree that grows 100 feet tall, a 6 foot diameter trunk and 100 foot canopy in less than a hundred years and has weak wood in their backyard?) but I do think they have a lot to offer.  As you can see in the picture of the trees along the river they are very important for erosion control.  They are able to grow in extremely wet conditions and even take periodic flooding (as you can see from the exposed roots on these trees) without flinching.  Yet in the western part of our state (where less than 25 inches of rain fall per year) they’re one of the only shade trees available because they have such extensive root systems that they can survive on the dry prairies.

Close up of cottonwood roots

The seeds are definitely a nuisance though.  For about a week in early to mid June they blanket everything with a fine white dusting.  It looks like snow really.   The below picture is from Fort Snelling State Park, a park along the river’s floodplain and home to an entire forest of almost entirely cottonwoods.  There are so many seeds floating around that it nearly chokes you.  I think I forgot to mention what the seeds are like.  Imagine a tree 100 feet tall producing millions of dandelion seed heads and that’s basically what cottonwood trees are.   They clog up air conditioners, the cut flower cooler at work and basically anything else that involves a filtered air intake.  They also make sweeping at work quite obnoxious.  They form giant dust bunnies that are impossible to sweep.

Even though they have all these obnoxious qualities I think they’re great.  This should be evident because I’ve been rambling fairly endlessly and probably have made no sense whatsoever.  I love cottonwoods.  Just not in my yard.  Then again they do best down by the river and lord knows I’d rather die than live by any sort of body of water.

Cottonwood Seeds making a mess

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2 thoughts on “The wonderful world of Cottonwood

  1. Huh. The seeds can be sort of annoying, but I’ve never seen them as a real problem. So either you’ve got a lot more of them than we do around here, or it’s just that we’ve got less ACs that can get clogged up. ;) And a cutflower cooler that only gets plugged in around Mother’s Day.

  2. They’re one of our more common trees since I live in an area filled with wetlands. They’re a giant pain for us at work for about a month solid. Every spring we forget that we have to vacuum the filter on the cooler every day or else it overheats so we always end up throwing away a bunch of overheated flowers. You’d think we’d learn to mark our calendars by now wouldn’t you?

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