A cottonwood tree is a tree in the genus Populus. Three species of cottonwood tree are recognized in this genus, and these northern hemisphere natives can be found in a range of locations. Most commonly, cottonwoods are located in riparian zones near rivers and lakes, and they are sometimes used as an indicator species when people look for underground deposits of water. Cottonwoods are also grown as ornamentals, and some garden supply stores carry cottonwood seedlings for gardeners.
Several features can be used to identify a cottonwood tree. The first is that, like other poplars, cottonwoods have leaves which appear to shimmer and shake in the wind, creating a very distinctive sound and visual appearance. Cottonwood leaves are triangular to diamond-like in shape, and they are a bright green on both sides, turning yellow and dropping in the fall and winter. The bark of cottonwoods is gray, and it tends to be deeply ridged and grooved. Cottonwoods produce hairy encapsulated fruit in dangling chains in the fall.
Although cottonwoods tend to prefer riparian zones, these trees are not terribly picky. They can withstand very unpleasant environmental conditions, including frequent flooding, silt deposits, and poor soils. Some taller trees bear scars where they have been struck by lightning, illustrating the durability of these trees. The toughness of the cottonwood tree has made it a popular choice for landscaping in urban areas and along highways and roads.
The wood from cottonwood trees is very soft and easy to work with, making it popular with carvers. Cottonwood has also historically been used as a source of timber for various construction projects, and as a source of firewood. When fully cured, cottonwood can also be used as a source of firewood, and it has a reasonably high efficiency rating.
These graceful trees can also make very pleasant ornamentals. A stand of cottonwoods can be used to create a privacy barrier between two properties, with leaves which will shimmer and dance with the breeze, adding visual interest. Cottonwoods can also be grown as standalone trees in the garden. Among the ornamental deciduous trees, cottonwoods are very popular in some regions of the world. When planting a cottonwood tree, gardeners should think about how the tree will impact the garden as it grows. These trees can grow very tall, casting a formidable shadow, and they can also develop large roots which damage pools, walkways, and foundations.