Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1127 Populus deltoides

Common Names: eastern cottonwood Family: Salicaceae (willow Family)
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eastern cottonwood
Eastern cottonwood trees are commonly found along the banks of the Ohio River.
eastern cottonwood
This is 'Siouxland' a popular male selection that does not produce messy quantities of fuzzy fiber-tipped seeds.


Eastern cottonwood has deciduous leaves about 2-6 in (5-15 cm) long, toothed on the margins, and with long, flattened petioles. The leaves are deltoid (shaped like an equilateral triangle) overall, and often cordate (heart shaped) at the base. The leaves are rather rigid and their long, flat stemmed petioles allow them to shake, shimmer and flutter gaudily in the slightest breeze. They sometimes turn yellow before falling in autumn. Cottonwoods are dioecious and the flowers are borne in pendant yellow-red catkins up to 6 in (15 cm) long which appear in spring before the leaves. The cottony-tufted seeds develop in an ovoid capsule about a half inch (1.5 cm) long that splits open at maturity, littering the ground beneath with piles of messy "cotton."

The gray bark is rough and deeply furrowed. Eastern cottonwood can reach 100 ft (30 m) in height with an irregular, spreading crown. The trunk of trees growing in the open often divides near the ground into two or three large limbs that can spread as much as 100 ft (30 m) across. 'Siouxland' is a widely available cultivar that grows quickly to form a rounded tree to 70ft (21 m) tall. 'Siouxland' is a male selection and thus a "cottonless" cottonwood.


Populus deltoides occurs naturally in river swamps, bottomlands, lowland forests and disturbed wet places throughout eastern North America from southern Canada to northern Florida and west to Montana and East Texas. The species is uncommon and spottily distributed in the Appalachians and southeastern U.S., and near its range periphery in the north and west. In Florida, eastern cottonwood is common only along the Apalachicola River.


Light: Eastern cottonwood usually starts out in the shade of other bottomland trees, but as it grows it becomes part of the canopy and thrives in full sun. Moisture: Cottonwood likes a moist soil, but cannot tolerate one that is constantly waterlogged. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: Eastern cottonwood seeds germinate readily without any pretreatment so long as they are in contact with bare ground. Seedlings typically sprout on bare mud after river floodwaters recede. Plowed fields adjacent to bottomlands are often colonized by cottonwood seedlings. Cultivars are propagated from cuttings.
eastern cottonwood
Eastern cottonwood leaves


Eastern cottonwood is a fast growing tree, but one susceptible to numerous diseases, breaking branches, constant littering, and a short life span. Few plantsmen recommend using this tree, even the named selections, in the cultivated landscape. The wood is soft and weak, and of little commercial importance. Eastern cottonwood has been used as a windbreak in the Plains states, and as a street or shade tree in urban areas, but has few proponents nowadays.


Eastern cottonwood is tolerant of most soils, including saline.


This fast growing tree produces aggressive roots that are known to damage sewer systems and building foundations.

Steve Christman 1/8/11, 9/6/16, 4/11/17, 4/18/18

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Populus species profiled on Floridata:

Populus alba

( white poplar, silver-leaved poplar, silver poplar )

Populus deltoides

( eastern cottonwood )

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