If you notice a profusion of fuzzy white seeds floating through the air in late spring, you can trace these seeds to cottonwood trees. The seeds of this tree are very small and are propagated thanks to the white fuzz that surrounds the seeds, making it easy for the wind to pick them up and transport them miles away.
Identifying a Cottonwood
The leaves of the cottonwood are very shiny in appearance and will make a distinctive rustling sound in the wind. The leaves of the tree are a bright green during the summer months, changing to a deep gold during the end of the growing season in fall. Actual cottonwood seeds are very tiny and measure at about 1 mm by 4 mm. They are surrounded by a soft, fuzzy coating that resembles cotton. Cottonwood trees are often found by water, sometimes in the water, since this is a very thirsty tree that needs a great deal of water. Early settlers would always look for a cottonwood tree when they needed to find a good source of water.
A cottonwood tree is one of the largest varieties of trees in North America. They can reach heights in excess of 100 feet and can sometimes grow to be as large as five feet around. These are slow-growing trees that are long-lived and can take 10 to 20 years to reach full maturity. As saplings, these trees can grow anywhere from two to four feet in a year, but the growth rate slows as the tree becomes larger.
The female cottonwood produces seeds every spring. These seeds are typically spread in the late spring months but can sometimes be seen in early summer. The seeds are a nuisance in some areas, especially if numerous trees are present, as the entire area will be covered with these seeds. When the seeds are disturbed by wind, they float away from the mother tree before coming to rest when the wind stops. This allows cottonwoods to propagate very easily and they can quickly take over an area.
Interesting Facts About Cottonwoods
There are male and female cottonwood trees, but only the female tree will produce seeds. However, it needs a male cottonwood tree in close proximity to do this. Cottonwood trees can live as long as 100 years or more if they are close to a good supply of water and do not get damaged by strong winds or storms. This tree has adapted to the plains and developed a very thick bark that is much like cork to help protect it from wildfires.