Cottonwood: The Prairie Giant
What’s the biggest tree we can grow? Easy answer, the Cottonwood Eastern or Plains Cottonwood. Maybe even a hybrid? Either way, Cottonwood is the biggest tree we grow. It is in the poplar family which scares people because they fear the urban legend that poplars don’t live long. That is only a part truth based on a few selections. Cottonwoods and anything with Cottonwood genetics will live very long time: 100 to 150 years is possible even in our cold and challenging climate. It is native here.
Cottonwood is not for everyone. This is not a front yard tree on a quarter acre lot. This is a big dude. The roots can travel 20 metres from the stem. This tree is known to destroy building foundations, sidewalks, and driveways. So why toot this trees horn? It has its upsides. Do you want a stately big tree in a park, or acreage, something that lives long? This tree makes a statement. It is also fast growing, between 3 and 6 feet per year when young. It’s hardy and relatively soil tolerant and also drought tolerant once established. It is also called the Cottonwood because it produces a lot of fluffy cotton. This is not a huge issue as the cotton lasts about one week. It’s not a big deal if it’s been given some space and the cotton doesn’t land in your air conditioner. The germination is very poor so that’s not an issue either. Most importantly, there is a male selection called Siouxland. which means no fluffy seed!
If there’s one lesson that Cottonwoods can teach us it is at every tree has its place and almost every tree has a place it shouldn’t be grown. The lesson is to know what your tree needs are and what it does so you can place it where you want. Maybe it’s a little like marriage – know the habits you can and cannot live with!