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Populus deltoides is often confused with:
Populus x acuminata Form of tree (Fort Collins, CO)-Early Summer
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Ulmus americana Full Form
Acer saccharinum From
Acer rubrum Acer rubrum
Populus deltoides has some common insect problems:
Cottonwood Leaf Beetle

Plains Cottonwood Populus deltoides

Phonetic Spelling
pop-U-lus del-TOY-dez
Description

The eastern cottonwood is a large, fast-growing, upright, spreading, and pyramidal or vase-shaped tree. It is a member of the Salicaceae or willow family. It grows to a height of 75 to 100 feet and potentially grows as high as 200 feet. Although pyramidal in youth, this tree will have a broad vase with open branches with age. The tree has yellowish twigs, light to medium green, triangular shaped, coarsely toothed leaves, and gummy-ended buds that easily distinguish it from other species of poplar. Catkins emerge in the spring before the leaves. During the summer, seed capsules of the female catkin appear. When the capsules split open the seeds appear with silky white hairs that are then dispersed by the wind.

The eastern cottonwood is native to the eastern, central, and southwestern United States as well as portions of Canada and Mexico. It typically grows along streams, river banks, and bottomlands. This native plant is found in fine sandy loams or silt loams of stream banks of the Piedmont and Coastal Plains of North Carolina.

The genus name, Populus, is derived from the Latin name for this tree. The epithet, deltoides, refers to the triangular or deltoid leaf shape that is similar to the Greek letter delta. The common name of cottonwood comes from the appearance of their seeds that have hairs resembling cotton. The common name, Necklace Poplar, references the long narrow seed capsules that look like a string of beads.

Plant in the full sun and moist, well-drained soil, preferably within 15 to 50 feet above stream level.  It tolerates a wide range of soil pH, from 4.5 to 8.0, and can withstand occasional flooding. This tree is resistant to erosion and wet soil. It is easy to transplant, but it is messy, weedy, and has brittle wood. It can be weedy as seedlings, and it produces copious root sprouts. It is intolerant to shade and relatively short-lived, up to 70 years, and can deteriorate rapidly

It attracts some small mammals, birds, and butterflies. The seedlings and young trees are frequently browsed by deer and rabbits.  

Its wood is brittle, giving little value to lumber. It is harvested for the production of plywood, baskets, crates, and pulp, particularly for use in high-grade magazine paper.

This plant may be used as a specimen or a shade tree, but it is not recommended as an ornamental. It is a poor tree selection for the home landscape or urban areas because of it is messy, weedy, and brittle. The roots may also cause damage to sidewalks or sewer lines. It may be best to leave this tree to its native habitats. 

Season of Interest:

Bark:  Winter   Bloom:  Spring           Foliage:  Summer and Fall        Fruits:  Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • bark is smooth, thin, greenish gray on young branches
  • with age, the bark becomes brown to ashy gray with ridges, fissures, and furrows 
  • twigs are yellowish-green, terminal buds are 3/4 inches long with 6 to 7 scales, lateral buds smaller and appressed
  • leaves are light to medium green, smooth, glossy, alternate, simple, triangular, 3 to 6 inches long and up to 4 inches wide, base flat across, margins dentate to crenate, and pointed tips
  • flowers are male and female catkins, 2 to 4.5 inches long, the male has red stamens, and the female has yellow stigmas and round green ovary
  • fruits are green, egg-shaped capsules on a long catkin, the capsule splits into 3 or 4 parts and releases cotton-like seeds

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Insect problems include borers, aphids, caterpillars, and scales. The eastern cottonwood is susceptible to dieback, canker, leaf spots, rust, and powdery mildew. Tree and shrub seedlings are not well managed by preemergence herbicides, and selective postemergence controls are not available. Hand-pull seedlings are required when they are small.

 

 VIDEO created by Grant L. Thompson for “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines for Landscaping” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Noreaster'
    Male. Defoliates early.
  • 'Purple Tower'
    Dark red to purple leaves in full sun
  • 'Siouxland'
    Male. Defoliates early
'Noreaster', 'Purple Tower', 'Siouxland'
Tags:
#deciduous#shade tree#rain garden#drought tolerant#weeds#wildlife plant#native tree#weedy#air pollution tolerant#erosion control#small mammals#food source wildlife#fast growing#messy#NC native#non-showy flowers#weak wood#wind dispersed seeds#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#short lifespan#larval host plant#dendrology#wet soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#flood tolerant#red-spotted purple butterfly#viceroy butterflies#shade intolerant#full sun#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Noreaster'
    Male. Defoliates early.
  • 'Purple Tower'
    Dark red to purple leaves in full sun
  • 'Siouxland'
    Male. Defoliates early
'Noreaster', 'Purple Tower', 'Siouxland'
Tags:
#deciduous#shade tree#rain garden#drought tolerant#weeds#wildlife plant#native tree#weedy#air pollution tolerant#erosion control#small mammals#food source wildlife#fast growing#messy#NC native#non-showy flowers#weak wood#wind dispersed seeds#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#short lifespan#larval host plant#dendrology#wet soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#flood tolerant#red-spotted purple butterfly#viceroy butterflies#shade intolerant#full sun#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Populus
    Species:
    deltoides
    Family:
    Salicaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The wood is weak and warps easily. It may be used for making crates or for use as timber or pulpwood.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern, Central, Southwestern United States, Canada and Mexico
    Distribution:
    Native: United States--AL, AZ, AR, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA< MD, MA, MI, MN, MS. MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY; Canada--Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan: Mexico--Gulf, Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest. Introduced: Argentina, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, East European Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Morocco, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Spain, West Himalaya, and Yugoslavia.
    Wildlife Value:
    This is a larval host plant. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) has three flights from February-November in the deep south and March-September in the north. The Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis Astyanax) has two broods from April-October. Seedlings and young trees are browsed by rabbits, deer, and domestic stock. Beavers use the saplings and poles for food and dam construction. Birds are also attracted to this tree.
    Play Value:
    Easy to Grow
    Shade
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Nesting
    Dimensions:
    Height: 75 ft. 0 in. - 100 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 35 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Erect
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Vase
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    White
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The mature fruit catkins are 7 to 10 inches long and contain many capsules. The fruit is a green, egg-shaped, capsule that is 8 to 12 mm long. Each capsule has 3 to 4 valves that split apart and release many cotton-like seeds that are dispersed by the wind. The tufted seeds are 0.25 inches long.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    3-6 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are male and female catkins, 2 to 4.5 inches long. The male catkin has red stamens, and the female catkin has yellow stigmas and a round green ovary. The male and female catkins grow on separate male and female trees. They appear from March through April. The female catkin develops dehiscent capsules.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Smooth
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Deltoid
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenate
    Dentate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are glossy, smooth, light to medium green, deciduous, simple, alternate, triangular, acuminate, and broadly ovate with coarse dentate or crenate margins and curved teeth. They measure 3 to 6 inches long and up to 4 wide. At the base of the leaf near the stalk are 2 small glands. The petiole measures 2.5 to 4 inches long. The fall color is yellow, but leaf drop may occur early.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Green
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Fissured
    Furrowed
    Ridges
    Smooth
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Round
    Bark Description:
    Smooth and greenish-gray bark when young becomes ashy-gray and roughened by long, deep, longitudinal, and interconnecting furrows, ridges, and fissures.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Bud Scales:
    Enclosed in more than 2 scales
    Stem Cross Section:
    Angular
    Stem Description:
    Twigs are yellowish-green, stout, angular, and enlarged at the nodes. The terminal buds are 0.5 to 0.75 inches long with 6 to 7 scales that may be resinous or shiny and chestnut brown. The lateral buds appear smaller and appressed.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Riparian
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Drought
    Salt
    Urban Conditions
    Wet Soil
    Problems:
    Messy
    Short-lived
    Weak Wood
    Weedy