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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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay 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

Seasons 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.

Location of Populus deltoides (Eastern cottonwood) at the Arboretum