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.
All Common Names:
- Residential and parks
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Shade tree,
- Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Moist, well-drained soil,
- Wet soil
- Dry sites,
- Occasional drought,
- Wet sites,
- Occasional flooding,
- Alkaline soil,
- Clay soil
- Highly susceptible to ice damage,
- Roots prone to invading sewer pipes,
- Weak wood and branch structure
- Attractive bark
Season of Interest:
- Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
Tree & Plant Care
Transplant easily, prefers wet soils in full sun, soil pH adaptable.
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
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.
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.