Populus deltoides Bartr. ex Marsh. - Cottonwood, Eastern Cottonwood, Plains Cottonwood, Plains Poplar, Necklace-Poplar, Whitewood, River Cottenwood
Native , Common
By Steven D. Glenn
Not peer reviewed
Last Modified 03/11/2013
Common NamesCottonwood, Eastern Cottonwood, Plains Cottonwood, Plains Poplar, Necklace-Poplar, Whitewood, River Cottenwood
Field IdentificationTree with simple opposite leaves.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.
The Teton Dakota ate the inner bark (Taylor, 2001).Native Americans used the inner bark for food. Moerman, 1998
Medicinal usesDisclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.
Used by Native Americans for colds, "weakness and disability", bruises and sores, coughs, and intestinal worms. Moerman, 1998
Other usesThe use of poplars for removal and sequesterization of various heavy metals and other chemicals from contaminated soils (phytoremediation) has been explored.
Rapidly growing P. deltoides x P. trichocarpa hybrids used to supply pulp. (Stettler et al, 1996).
The wood of eastern cottonwood is moderately light in weight, rather soft, and relatively weak in bending and compression. It is uniform in texture and usually straight. Primary wood products include lumber, veneer, plywood, excelsior, fiberboard, paper pulp, sawtimber, and pulpwood. Finished wood products include pallets, crates, furniture, and food containers. Eastern cottonwood is slightly to nonresistant to heartwood decay. Eastern cottonwood is a valuable timber species. It is used as a short-rotation intensive culture species in the southern United States and Canada, and is highly suitable for plantation management. Plains cottonwood has similar wood characteristics, but is not considered to be commercially valuable. The wood is not durable when exposed to soil and other moist conditions. It is used for rough construction lumber, temporary fence posts, corral poles, fuel, veneer, boxes, plywood, excelsior, and wood pulp (Taylor, 2001).
Eastern cottonwood is well suited for revegetating disturbed riparian sites and has also been used extensively in the reclamation of strip-mined lands. Eastern cottonwood (P. d. ssp. deltoides) has been planted successfully on mine spoils in Ohio both in pure stands and in mixture with black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
The extensive root system holds streambanks in place, is effective in shoreline protection, and revegetating eroded stream channels. Eastern cottonwood can be used as living dams for erosion and flood control work and has been used extensively in shelterbelt and windbreak plantings in the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada (Taylor, 2001).
During severe winters saplings were used as horse and cattle feed by Native Americans and early settlers. Native Americans used the roots to start fires and used smaller trees for lodge poles and travois. The teepee pattern is supposedly patterned after the deltoid leaf shape. The Omaha used it to make the Sacred Pole. Nebraska tribe children made toys with the leaves and made gum and play jewelry from the fruits. The wood of Rio Grande cottonwood was used by the Navajo for firewood, fence posts, cradles, tinderboxes, wooden tubes of bellows, dolls, and images for ceremonies. Chewing gum was made from the sap or the catkins mixed with animal fat (Taylor, 2001).Used by Native Americans for horse fodder; building material for lodges; various colored dyes and paints; smoke sticks for the peyote ceremony; and a "protection sap used to conceal human scent when stealing enemy horses." Moerman, 1998
Populus deltoides Bartr. ex Marsh., Arbust. Am. 106. 1785.
Populus caroliniensis Moench., Verz. Ausl. Baume Weissenstein. 81. 1785.
Populus virginiana Fouger., Mem. Soc. Agr. Paris. 1786: 87. 1787.
Populus angulata Ait., Hort. Kew. 3: 407. 1789.
Populus monilifera Ait., Hort. Kew. 3: 406. 1789.
?Populus laevigata Ait., Hort. Kew. 3: 406. 1789.
Populus nigra var. virginiana Castigl., Viagg. Stati Uniti. 2: 334. 1790.
Populus dilatata var. caroliniensis Willd., Berlin. Baumz. 230. 1796.
Populus canadensis Mich. f., Hist. Arb. Am. Sept. 3: 298, t. 11. 1813. not Moench, 1785.
Populus canadensis Kuntze, Rev. Gen. Pl. 643. 1891. not Moench 1785.
Monilistus monilifera Raf. ex B.D. Jackson, Index Kew. 2: 257. 1894.
Populus deltoides var. occidentalis Rydberg, Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 1: 115. 1900.
Populus sargentii Dode, Bull. Soc. Hist. Nat. Autun 18: 198. 1905.
Populus angulata var. missouriensis A. Henry in Elwes & Henry, Trees of Great Britian and Ireland 7: 1811. 1908.
Aigeiros deltoides (Bartr.) Tidestrom, Elys. Marian. 2: 16. 1910.
Populus deltoides var. monilifera (Ait.) Henry, Gard. Chron. Ser. 3, 56: 2, fig. 4. 1914.
Populus balsamifera Farwell, Rhodora 21: 101. 1919. not L., 1753.
Populus balsamifera var. virginiana (Castil.) Sarg., J. Arnold Arb. 1: 63. 1919.
Populus texana Sarg., Bot. Gaz. 67: 211, 212. 1919.
Populus deltoides virginiana (Castil.) Sudw., Check List For. Trees U.S. 65 (U.S. Dept. Agric. Misc. Circ. 92). 1927.
Populus deltoides ssp. monilifera (Ait.) Eckenwalder, J. Arnold Arb. 58: 204. 1977.
TYPE: Carolina and Florida, W. Bartram (Holotype, BM?)
HABIT Perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, tree, diclinous and dioecious; one of the tallest trees east of the Rocky Mountains, up to 55 m tall and 1-2 meters in diameter. Also the fastest growing native tree in North America (Taylor, 2001). Maximum lifespan 100-150+ years (Burns & Honkala, 1990). Age at reproductive maturity 5-10 years. (Stettler et al, 1996)
STEMS Main bole erect, round. Bark smooth, gray to yellow-green when young; later turning dark gray with thick ridges and deep furrows, not exfoliating. Branches erect or ascending. Twigs light brown to yellowish, not odoriferous, angular, 3-5 mm in diam., smooth, glabrous, eglandular, with prominent white lenticels on older twigs. Pith brown, 5-pointed, continuous, nodal diaphragm absent. Sap translucent. For a review of the anatomical structure of the branches see Richards & Larson, 1981. For a synopsis of the root system see Stettler et al, 1996. Roots able to form both ecto- and endomycorrhizal associations (Vozzo & Hacskaylo, 1974). For a study of the wood fiber size see Kaeiser, 1955.
BUDS Terminal and axillary present, scattered along stem; terminal bud oblong, pointed, viscid. Axillary buds 1 per axil, oblong, pointed, viscid. Bud scales brown to yellow-brown, imbricate, glabrous, eglandular. Bud scale scars not encircling the stem. Leaf scars broadly crescent-shaped, elevated. Vascular bundle scars 3 (sometimes discreet 6-7 scars), crescent-shaped. For an anatomical review of the buds scales see Sentsov, 1995 (In Russian). For a review of the anatomical structure of the buds see Richards & Larson, 1981. For a review of the anatomical structure of bud scales and function of resin see Curtis & Lersten, 1974.
LEAVES Alternate, simple, spiral, 1 per node, spaced somewhat evenly along and divergent from stem. Stipules present, lateral, free from the petiole, leaf-like, margins entire, caducous. For a survey of the anatomical structure of stipules and resin secretion see Curtis & Lersten, 1974. Leaves petiolate, petiole flattened, 4-9 cm long, glabrous, eglandular. For a study of micro-anatomy of the petiole and node see Isebrands & Larson, 1977a and Isebrands & Larson, 1977b and Russin & Evert, 1984. Leaf blades: abaxial surface green, adaxial surface green, deltate (occasionally ovate in P. deltoides ssp. monilifera), bilaterally symmetric, 5-16 cm long, 5-13 cm wide (generally leaf size decreases from south and southeast to north and west (Sokal et al, 1986)), chartaceous, apex acuminate, base truncate to subcordate (semi-cuneate-acute in P. deltoides ssp. monilifera), margin with translucent border, serrate (marginal teeth of the first leaves covered with trichomes and lack secretory glands; in successive leaves the teeth become glandular which secrete resin- first emerging as a milky white, yellow-white liquid but later turning clear and yellow and also hydathodes occur proximal to the glands and secrete nectar or water; for an anatomical review of marginal teeth glands and their phenology and possible anti-herbivory effects see Curtis & Lersten, 1974). Abaxial surface glabrous, usually 2 (sometimes lacking, sometimes up to 5) basal, sessile glands (secreting mostly resin, occasionally nectar) (Curtis & Lersten, 1978) about 1-1.5 mm long (Curtis & Lersten, 1974). Adaxial surface glabrous, eglandular. For a review of leaf anatomy and morphology see Russin & Evert, 1984 and Marcet, 1961 (In German). For an anatomical overview of the secondary tissues see Stettler et al, 1996.
FEMALE INFLORESCENCES Unisexual, compound, axillary raceme, precocious, formed on last season's growth; greenish, with 40-60 flowers, pendant after anthesis; catkin-like. 10-22 cm long, lengthening in fruit. Bracts 1, subtending each flower, petiolate, adnate to pedicel, apices erose-fimbriate, lateral surfaces glabrous, eglandular. Pedicels 3-15 mm long (lengthening in fruit), glabrous, eglandular. Rarely hermaphroditic Santamour, 1956.
FEMALE FLOWERS Perianth parts indistinguishable from one another, fragrance absent. Gynoecium set on persistent perianth which is a glabrous, crateriform disk composed of connate tepals (perigon). Carpels 2-4, usually 3. Locules 1. Stigmas 2, lobed, light green; withering after fertilization. Styles 1, short, glabrous, eglandular. Ovary superior, glabrous, eglandular, green turning brown in fruit. Placentation parietal. For a review of the floral organogenesis and micro-anatomy see Kaul, 1995. For a review of the floral micro-anatomy and vascularization see Fisher, 1928. For a review of the floral micro-anatomy, vascularization and micro/mega-sporogenesis see Nagaraj, 1952. For a study of shoot morphogenesis associated with flowering and a hypothesized a 3-yr flowering cycle see Yuceer et al, 2003.
MALE INFLORESCENCES Unisexual, compound, axillary raceme, precocious, formed on last season's growth; reddish-purple, with 8-100+ flowers, drooping as anthesis progresses, the rachis elongating and its flowers becoming less crowded; catkin-like. Bracts 1, subtending each flower, petiolate, adnate to pedicel, apices erose-fimbriate, lateral surfaces glabrous, eglandular. Pedicels 2-4 mm long, glabrous, eglandular. Observed formation of female flowers and seedpods, subsequent to the production of male flowers and pollen, on branch cuttings from a male Populus deltoides var. wislizenii tree- a subdioecious taxon with occasional bisexual individual plants (Rowland et al, 2002).
MALE FLOWERS Perianth parts indistinguishable from one another, fragrance absent. Androecium set on persistent perianth which is a glabrous, crateriform disk composed of connate tepals (perigon). Stamens 12-60, exserted, 2-3 mm long. Anthers initially yellow, becoming dark red with age, dehiscence longitudinal, glabrous, eglandular. Filaments free, straight, white, glabrous, eglandular. Gynoecium absent. For a review of the floral organogenesis and micro-anatomy see Kaul, 1995. For a review of the floral micro-anatomy and vascularization see Fisher, 1928. For a review of the floral micro-anatomy, vascularization and micro/mega-sporogenesis see Nagaraj, 1952. For a study of shoot morphogenesis associated with flowering and a hypothesized a 3-yr flowering cycle see Yuceer et al, 2003.
FRUITS Loculicidal dehiscent 3-4-valved capsule, green turning brown, ovoid, 8-15 mm long, 6-7 mm wide, glabrous, eglandular; containing 18-40 seeds.
SEEDS 3-3.5 mm long, 1 mm wide, eglandular, covered with dense, short, appressed hairs. Adnate tufts of longer "cotton" (which facilitate anemochory) composed of epidermal hairs of the placenta; endosperm completely consumed by developing embryo so that none remains in the mature seed (Nagaraj, 1952). Weight - 0.3-0.6 mg (Bessey, 1904) (Burns & Honkala, 1990).
HabitatFound in wastelands, urban lots, roadsides, river banks, pond and lake shores, alluvium, gravelly islands, semi-wooded slopes and floodplain woods, alluvial woods, sandy river bottoms; somewhat intolerant of shade?; tolerant of inundation and siltation.
Indigenous to North America.
United States -- AR, AZ, CO, CT, DC, DE?, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD?, ME?, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI?, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY
Canada -- AB, MB, ON, QC, SK
New York Metropolitan Region -- Native, found throughout the metropolitan area.
Global Heritage Rank -- G5
Connecticut -- Not listed
New Jersey -- Not listed
New York -- Not listed
April - May
Hydrochory and Anemochory (Fowells, 1965) (Stettler et al, 1996) (Taylor, 2001)
It is difficult to define germination with the small seeds of Populus species; for most species; germinated seedlings should have well-developed hypocotyl hairs, regular growth, and a geotropic response. Seeds that have been dried for storage may suffer injury from rapid imbibition; aeration with humid air after storage has been used to solve this problem. The critical factor for germination is moisture. (Young & Young, 1992)
The time of ripening is quite variable; a safe criterion for time of fruit collection is when a small percentage of the capsules are beginning to open. Pre-strorage drying immediately after collecting is essential for successful storage. A moisture content of 5-8% improves viability and germination of stored seed. After air drying for 4 days store in a sealed container at 41d F. The critical factor for germination is moisture. (Dirr & Heuser, 1987)
Optimal temperature 27-32dC; optimum pH 5.5-8; often germinating almost immediately after falling from tree. (Fowells, 1965) (Burns & Honkala, 1990) (Farmer & Bonner, 1967)
Long term viability can be maintained with temperatures below freezing in a dry atmosphere. (Stettler et al, 1996).
Also regenerates readily from roots suckers and stump sprouts and crown breakage and tree fall; broken branches can become buried in sediment and subsequently sprout (Fowells, 1965) (Stettler et al, 1996).
Hybridizes with P. nigra (P. × canadensis Moench) (=Populus x euramericana ?) and P. balsmaifera (P. × jackii Sarg.)(Fowells, 1965) (Stettler et al, 1996).