Content Detail

Eastern cottonwood is a large, fast-growing tree found growing along streams, rivers, and lowland areas. It is native to eastern North America through the Midwest and Chicago region. Due to its large size, weak wood, and penetrating roots, it is best used on large properties away from residential areas.  

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

  • Family (English) Willow
  • Family (botanic) Salicaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 75-100 feet
  • Mature width 50-75 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Irregular, Pyramidal, Round
  • Growth rate Fast
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Highly susceptible to ice damage, Roots prone to invading sewer pipes, Weak wood and branch structure
  • Wildlife Mammals, Sapsuckers, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 2 This tree is native to eastern North America through the Midwest and the Chicago Region. It can be found growing along streams, rivers, and lowland areas. 

Bark color and texture:

Mature trees produce an ash-gray, blocky, thick bark with deep furrows and ridges.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

This tree has an alternate leaf arrangement with 2 to 5 inch long, simple, triangle-shaped, deciduous leaves.  These leaves have a toothed margin and an elongated tip. The leaf petiole is 3 to 4 inches long and flatted. Leaf buds are large, 1-inch long, reddish green and pointed. Leaves are green in summer, turning yellow or brown in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Eastern cottonwoods are Dioecious. Male trees have dangling reddish catkins before leaves appear. Female trees have yellow flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit of the Eastern cottonwood is a dangling cluster of dehiscent capsules in May and June (on female trees only). Each seed produces a bit of fluff to aid in wind dispersal. 

Plant care:

Eastern cottonwoods transplant easily, prefers wet soils in full sun, and soil pH adaptable. It is drought tolerant. It is extremely fast growing which makes it weak-wooded and brittle and produces suckers and aggressive roots.

Pests, diseases and tolerances: 

Roots are shallow-rooted and can invade septic and sewer systems. The female trees can be messy, producing large quantities of seeds with white ‘fluff’ attached. It is susceptible to a wide range of diseases including dieback, cankers, leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew. Problem insects include borers, aphids, caterpillars and scale.

Siouxland Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides ‘Siouxland’):  

This tree is a male cultivar (produces no seeds or ‘cotton’), fast-growing (2 to 3 feet per year), resistant to rust, oval in form, and yellow fall color.


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