TREES & plants

Eastern cottonwood

Leaves of Eastern cottonwood.

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. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name: 
Populus deltoides
All Common Names: 
Eastern cottonwood, Eastern poplar
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
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
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage, 
  • Roots prone to invading sewer pipes, 
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Mammals, 
  • Sapsuckers, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Transplant easily, prefers wet soils in full sun, soil pH adaptable. 
Drought tolerant, 
Extremely fast growing, making it weak-wooded and brittle.
Produces suckers and aggressive roots.

Disease, pests, and problems

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

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 2
Native to eastern North America through the Midwest and the Chicago Region, 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

Alternate leaf arrangement.
The 2 to 5 inch long, simple, triangle-shaped, deciduous 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

Dioecious , male trees have dangling reddish catkins befor leaves appear. Female flowers are yellow.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit 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. 

Cultivars and their differences

Siouxland Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides 'Siouxland'):  A male cultivar (produces no seeds or 'cotton'); fast-growing (2 to 3 feet per year); resistant to rust; oval form, yellow fall color.

Populus deltoides or Eastern cottonwood