Cottonwood

Family: 
Salicaceae (willows)
Description: 

Large tree with long, straight trunk and massive branches forming a rounded top.

Leaves alternate, simple, 3–7 inches long, broadly triangular, abruptly pointed, with coarse teeth with tiny hairs, small glands at base of leaf blade; upper surface green, shiny; lower surface paler, smooth; leaf stalk slender, flattened.

Bark thin, smooth, yellow-green when young; thick, corky, brown to gray, with deep, straight grooves and wide, flat ridges with age.

Twigs stout, angular, yellowish to brown, smooth; pores prominent; bud at tip about ½ inch long, brown, with sticky bud scales.

Flowers March–May, male and female flowers in catkins on separate trees before leaves emerge; petals absent.

Fruits May–June, drooping catkins 5–10 inches long; capsules widest at base, about ¼ inch long, splitting into 2–4 parts; seeds brown, small, numerous, each with tuft of long cottony hairs.

Similar species: Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra 'Italica').

Size: 
Height: to 100 feet or more.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs in moist lowlands near streams and rivers. It is the fastest-growing native tree in Missouri, reaching 50 feet in height and 8 inches in diameter in as little as 6 years under good conditions. Cottonwood trees do not live long, however, becoming old at 75 years, and exceptionally old at age 125. This tree has the ability to sprout from woody stem cuttings, and 3-foot sections can be pounded into eroding banks and be left alone to grow and stabilize a stream or river’s edge.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide.
Status: 
Common; some specialists prefer to call it "eastern cottonwood poplar"; other people know it as "eastern cottonwood" and "southern cottonwood."
Human connections: 
The valuable wood is used for veneer, kite and ice cream sticks, baskets, pulpwood and fuel. Humans utilize cottonwood’s ability to sprout from woody cuttings and enlist it as a plant for stabilizing banks of waterways. A tea made from the bark had many historic Native American medicinal uses.
Ecosystem connections: 
Cottonwood is one of a suite of fast-growing lowland trees commonly found along waterways, so it is an important component of river and stream ecosystems, providing shelter and food to numerous species. Grosbeaks eat the seeds. Beaver eat the bark, leaves and buds. Deer eat the twigs and leaves.