Summer Fluff of the Cottonwood Tree

cottonwood seed pods

Cottonwood seed pods explode into a summery fluff.

If you are anywhere near a Cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides, a member of the poplar family) you’ll experience a seasonal event in summer when the seed pods of the female trees ripen and explode, causing fluff to fly everywhere. I caught this one in mid-explosion at the beach on Lake Ontario. You might notice piles of fluff and not know where it came from, as it blows in the wind very easily. The tiny seeds are attached to the fluff, and are spread by the wind or anything the fluff attaches itself to, much like a dandelion seed.

The Eastern Cottonwood is a tall tree—one of the largest in North America—with thick, papery leaves that make their presence known in more ways than one. Another is sound. There was a massive one in my neighbourhood, (until lightning struck it) and I loved the particular sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. Yes, some trees are noisier than others! Maybe Cottonwoods’ sonic force is due to the coarsely-toothed leaf edges. Cottonwoods have a lot of visual clues that help you identify it. I like this description of the seed pods from The Tree Pages:

Fruits are capsules on long pendulous catkins appearing somewhat like green beads on a necklace.

Cottonwoods grow happily along our lake front and in many parks and ravines. They are a bit large for most home landscapes.

Cottonwood trees are the fastest growing trees in North America. A young tree can add 6 feet or more in height each year. This rapid growth leads to weak wood that is easily damaged.

The trees can grow to well over 100 feet tall, with eastern species sometimes reaching 190 feet. The canopy of a mature tree spreads about 75 feet wide, and the diameter of the trunk averages about 6 feet at maturity.

In fall, the leaves turn a bright yellow, adding to the beauty this tree provides. We are lucky in Toronto to have so many cottonwood trees as part of our large tree canopy.

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