Planting Cottonwood Trees: Cottonwood Tree Uses In The Landscape

by johnah on November 20, 2020

Cottonwoods are one of the most popular trees in the world. They grow naturally all over the world. There are many uses for cottonwoods, which include building materials, furniture, and even food crops such as apples and pears. Cottonwood trees have been used since ancient times to make rope and other things. Today they still produce these products in some places around the globe (such as China).

In North America, cottonwoods are usually grown for their wood rather than their leaves or fruit. Their leaves are often used for paper making and other purposes. However, in some parts of the country they’re grown mainly for their fruits, which can be eaten raw or cooked like oranges and lemons.

The plant grows up to 30 feet tall with a spread of 6 feet. Its branches reach up to 8 feet. Cottonwoods are native to the United States, but they’ve become increasingly common throughout much of the rest of the world due to climate change.

Cottonwood trees thrive in moist areas where water doesn’t easily evaporate, so they’re sometimes called “water trees.” These plants need lots of moisture, so if you live in a place with frequent rain or flooding, then growing cottonwoods might not be for you.

These trees are very popular in water reservoirs because they have large, shallow roots and can spread out over a large area. This helps them soak up more water than most other trees, which means that they prevent flooding to some extent.

Cottonwoods can grow in most types of soil as long as it isn’t too dry or too wet. They also do well in drought conditions once they’re fully grown. Their shallow root system also helps them survive floods.

These plants are called “cottonwoods” because their seeds look like little puffs of cotton, and they drift through the air much like cotton when released by the parent plant. The cottonwood’s seeds can travel long distances on the wind. This is why these trees are so common in places that don’t normally have them.

Cottonwoods can grow in almost any condition, from arid deserts to frozen tundras. Their only requirement is that the soil has to be able to retain water. Cottonwoods are usually one of the first trees to grow in an area that has recently suffered a large wildfire.

They’re also among the last trees to disappear after a long drought. This makes them excellent for preventing soil erosion and for giving wildlife a place to eat and drink when nothing else is available.

Most animals don’t eat cottonwood leaves or buds because they contain a bitter substance that discourages consumption. This same substance can also be refined for human uses. It’s sometimes used in the manufacturing of certain medicines because it helps prevent diarrhea, among other things.

Many people think that non-native trees should be cut down because they’re taking up space and resources that could be used by “native” trees. However, it could be argued that cottonwoods are actually helping the environment.

When some other types of trees die, their dried-out corpses remain standing until they’re torn down by wind or weather. This is bad because these dead trees don’t rot and return nutrients to the soil. Instead, they act as kind of parasite and take nutrients out of the ground without giving anything back.

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Cottonwoods, on the other hand, often die during floods or landslides. When this happens, their roots are torn from the soil and broken apart. This means that they rot and break down much more quickly than other types of trees.

Their nutrients are then returned to the soil, which enables other plants to grow there instead of having to steal from existing ones.

If enough cottonwoods grow in an area, they can actually help prevent wildfires. Their thick cover of brittle branches and dry leaves are perfect wildfire fuel. However, if there are enough of them, some stems and branches inevitably break off and fall to the ground, creating natural firebreaks.

The only real disadvantage of growing cottonwoods is that their roots sometimes interfere with underground structures such as sewer pipes and water mains. These types of problems are rare, but they do occasionally occur.

Cottonwoods can grow to be over sixty feet tall, but they rarely reach that size. Most of them are between thirty and forty feet tall. Their thick trunks are usually around three or four inches around.

The wood from these trees is a pale yellowish-white and rather soft. It isn’t used for construction very often, though it can be. It’s mostly just burned as firewood because it’s cheap and easy to get.

Because of their tendency to interfere with underground structures, it’s actually illegal to plant these trees anywhere but wilderness areas. Some people still do it anyway, both deliberately and accidentally. The City is pretty good about removing any that they find with deep roots, but they aren’t always successful.

Many people are put off by the cottonwood’s strong odor. It smells like…cotton.

The reason for this is that the tree naturally releases a substance called ginnalin. This is also used in the manufacture of certain medicines and perfumes. Some people feel that this smell enhances their appreciation of nature. Others find it to be a nuisance.

Cottonwood trees are popular nesting places for birds. They also provide shade in the summer and protection from the elements in the winter. The spring, of course, provides food in the form of buds and flowers.

These trees are beneficial to many forms of plant and animal life. They aren’t selfish with their resources. They’re also one of the few types of tree that can actually grow in the silt-filled contaminated rivers and streams around here. Despite all this, some people want them all cut down because they’re non-native. Such short-sightedness is beyond me.

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Actually, come to think of it, I guess that’s exactly what’s causing this problem…

I get back in my car and resume driving.

After a few minutes, I pull onto another road. It’s almost two miles to the next on-ramp. I could probably walk it faster than I could drive due to all the traffic.

I’m not sure what the hold up is, but it better be worth it because I’m not enjoying having to breathe in car exhaust.

There seems to be some sort of police presence on this one. The traffic is being deliberately slowed down. A few people seem upset, but most are ambivalent.

I can’t tell what the cops are doing, but I can see some people getting out of their cars and I’m not getting past this choke point anytime soon.

I should turn around and find another way, but my apartment is near the freeway and I’ll have to deal with this mess eventually. Might as well get it over with now.

I switch off my car and step out into the street, then make my way to the front of the line where two cops are blocking the way. I should have brought my cane. Oh well, I can manage.

“We’re conducting an investigation into a crime that was reported,” one says to me without looking in my direction. His eyes are fixed on some faraway point. “Nobody gets through.”

What’s going on?”

I ask, trying to see around him.

“There’s a body lying on the side of the road about a mile up,” he says. “I don’t want anyone going near it until the crime scene has been processed.”

My heart skips a beat when I hear this. This is horrible!

Someone was murdered?

I can’t imagine what it would be like to find someone dead like that. I was in a car accident once and it wasn’t a good experience, but at least I survived it. Whoever this person is, they’re never going to experience anything ever again.

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I’m about to ask the officer some more questions when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around and see an older woman with striking gray hair and blue eyes.

“I heard what you said,” she tells me in a low voice. “And I saw you walking past my house early this morning.”

She says this like she’s accusing me of something, but I don’t think I know her so I have no idea what she’s talking about. My face must display my confusion because she continues.

“I didn’t report the body right away,” she says in a low voice. “I was out looking for my cat and I saw you on the roadside. If you want to know more, come with me and we’ll talk about it.”

The woman turns and walks away. Her body is slightly hunched over from age and she walks with a cane, but her pace is surprisingly brisk. After a moment’s hesitation, I follow her.

The cops pay us no mind.

We turn down a side street and walk for about three blocks before she leads me into a residential area. Most of the houses are single-story and neatly kept. Her house is predictably one of the older ones on the block.

We walk up the driveway and she opens the garage door by remote. She enters and I follow her into the dim space.

The garage is bigger than most of the houses on the street. One whole wall is occupied by a dryer and washing machine, while the opposite wall has built-in cabinets and a workbench along the top. A countertop runs across the front of the room with deep sinks and a stainless steel refrigerator underneath.

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Every available surface is covered in bottles of pills, pill containers, and empty water bottles. An elderly woman lies on the floor in a patch of sunlight streaming through the window.

“I woke up a couple hours ago and she wasn’t in bed,” the woman says. “I thought she might have wandered outside again, but I can only manage the steps to the garage with my walker now. I’ve called the police and Animal Control, but I can’t wait any longer.

I need to look for her.”

She hobbles over to the elderly woman and turns her over. I gasp when I see who it is. It’s Mrs.

Reynolds, my high school Home Economics teacher! She had to have been well into her sixties when she taught me. It’s hard to believe she’s even older than that now.

The woman props Mrs. Reynolds up against a bag of dog food and starts pulling pill bottles out of a cabinet. She opens one and shakes a couple of white pills into her hand.

“I found her like this earlier,” she says. “The bottle’s missing, so someone took all of the pills in it. She was trying to crawl towards the garage door and the sound woke me up.

I wish I’d gotten up sooner. Now, I’m going to sit her up and pop these in her mouth.”

She presses Mrs. Reynolds’ head between her hands and gives it a gentle shake. When her head flops to the side, her mouth gapes open.

The woman crushes the pills in her hand and scoops a bit of water into her mouth with an eyedropper.

“There,” she says as she finishes. “Now, let’s see what we can find out.”

She kneels down in front of Mrs. Reynolds and starts to ask her questions. The woman’s voice is calm, but firm.

It reminds me of the time Lucy woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

What’s your name?”


“I’m Linda.

What happened to you, Wendy?”

“I took my pills and I lay down like I always do.”

Did you fall asleep? Was there anything different about today?”

Mrs. Reynolds looks up at the ceiling and frowns as she tries to remember.

“No, it was just like any other day.”

Do you take your pills every day?”


Do you always take them at the same time?”

“No. Sometimes I wake up and take them right away and sometimes I forget and I don’t take them until later.”

Do you always take them in the garage?”

“No. Sometimes I’m in the kitchen.”

Do you ever take them anywhere else?”

“No, just the garage and kitchen.”

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Do you take more than one set of pills?”

“One blue pill and one beige pill.”

How many sets do you take? One or two?”


Is there anything else you take twice a day?”

“My vitamins.”

Do you take your vitamins in the garage or the kitchen?”

“The kitchen.”

Do you take anything else in the garage?”

“My walker.”

Do you take your walker into the kitchen?”

“No, just the garage and my room. I don’t go far anymore.”

Do you take anything in your room?”

Mrs. Reynolds turns her head to look at the boxes piled against the wall and clutches her blanket.

“Yes, but I keep them in the boxes so the movers don’t break them.”

What are they?”

Linda asks as she shifts closer.

“My porcelain collection. I’ve been collecting for years and years. Those boxes are the most precious ones.

They have to be packed last.”

Is there anything else in your room?”

“Just my quilt and my pictures. My husband gave me that quilt before he died.”

What about the garage? Is there anything in the garage?”

“My lawnmower. I keep it in the corner.”

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Is there anything else in the garage?”

“The hot water heater is supposed to be delivered tomorrow. It’s busted and they’re replacing it.”

Mrs. Reynolds frown deepens as she looks at the boxes against the wall. Linda glances over at them and then turns back to her.

What is it, Wendy? What’s the matter?”

“The boxes. They’re not there anymore.”

Are you sure?”

“I know what’s in those boxes. I had my great-grandmother’s dinner set in one of them and the records of all my medical expenses in the other.”

What do the boxes look like?”

“They’re small and they have pictures of castles on the sides. They’re in the back of the garage under that thing.”

Linda stands and walks over to the boxes Mrs. Reynolds pointed out. She looks through them for a moment and then turns back to her.

“These don’t have anything valuable in them,” she says. “Just old kitchen utensils and some records.”

“That’s not my dinner set and those aren’t my medical records.”

“I’m sure they’re not valuable. Or the movers broke them and threw them out.”

Why would the movers throw out something that’s broken? They’re moving it, aren’t they?

That’s why they’re in the garage. They wouldn’t throw them away.”

“I’ll go check the trash cans behind the house,” Linda says with a sigh. “It won’t take a minute.”

As Mrs. Reynolds watches Linda walk off the bus, she turns back to the boxes. She stares at them as if they might disappear if her vision blurs.

A few minutes later, Linda comes back to the garage with a trash bag in her hand.

“I found this under the kitchen sink,” she says, opening the bag and pulling out a chipped teacup. “

Is this one of your great-grandmother’s china sets?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Reynolds says, taking the cup from her and stroking her thumb over the chip. “I know exactly where this came from. It was a wedding gift from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother.”

“I’m so sorry, Wendy. I looked through all the trash cans and the only thing I found that looked familiar were these medical records. Maybe you threw them away and didn’t realize it.”

“My back was hurting last week,” Mrs. Reynolds says. “I probably just threw them out when I got the prescription.”

She clutches the cup to her chest and closes her eyes. Linda kneels in front of her and takes her free hand.

“Thank you, Linda. Thank you for finding my great-grandmother’s cup.”

“You’re welcome,” Linda says, smiling at her.

“I just wish I could have found the medical records, too.”

“Maybe you just don’t remember finding them.”

“No,” Mrs. Reynolds says. “I would have remembered finding all of this.”

She sets the cup on the ground and walks around the garage, searching for something else that might jog her memory. Linda pulls out her phone and calls James to tell him about the trash cans. She doesn’t want him to be alarmed if he notices they’re empty when he gets home from work.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Reynolds focuses on a small corner of the garage that seems to have been spared by the movers. She stares at it for a moment and then walks over to it and crouches down.

“Linda,” she says. “Come look at this.”

Linda stands up and walks over to her.

What is it?”

“Look at this corner.”

“Okay,” Linda says, squatting down next to her. “It’s a corner.”

“Look closer.

Do you see anything?”

Linda leans closer and stares at the floor. After a few moments, she pulls a small, black velvet box from the corner. She opens it and gasps.

Is that what I think it is?”

Mrs. Reynolds asks.

“Yeah,” Linda says, lifting the ring out of the box and staring at it. “It’s a diamond engagement ring.”

Whose is it?”

“I can’t tell if it has initials on it or a name,” Linda says, turning it over in her hands.

“Maybe there’s a card or a note nearby.”

The two women crawl around on the floor for a while, but they can’t find anything else.

Finally, Linda tucks the box into her pocket and stands up.

“I’ll keep this safe,” she says. “If no one comes forward to claim it, we can decide what to do with it later.”

“Okay,” Mrs. Reynolds says. “I’m ready to go now.”

Do you want to drive over to Brenda’s house now, or wait until later?”

“Let’s just go,” Mrs. Reynolds says.

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She and Linda climb into the truck and drive to Brenda’s house. When they pull into the driveway, Mrs. Reynolds puts her hand on Linda’s arm to stop her from getting out of the truck.

“I feel like I should say something to Brenda before I leave,” she says. “

Do you think she’d want to see me?”

“Of course,” Linda says, smiling at her. “Come on, I’ll take you to her.”

She leads Mrs. Reynolds up to the front door and knocks on it. They wait a few minutes, but there’s no answer.

“Maybe she went out,” Linda says, staring at the closed window shades. “I’ll try knocking again in a little bit.”

“Let’s go for a walk,” Mrs. Reynolds says. “I still feel like there’s something I need to do before I leave town.

I can’t get it out of my head.”

They walk to the park at the center of town and sit down on a bench. A few minutes later, they see Brenda walking towards the park. She doesn’t see them at first, but then she stops when she spots them sitting together on the bench.

She glances around as if she’s looking for someone else and then turns her back on them and walks away.

Should we go talk to her?

,” Linda asks.

“No. I know what to do.”

A moment later, Linda gets up and walks over to Brenda. They talk for a few minutes and then hug. After Linda walks back to the bench, Brenda goes back toward her house.

What did you say to her?”

“I just told her that she needed to accept the ring I left in the trash can. She said she was sorry and that she’d always love me. She promised she’d be happy no matter what.”

“That was nice of you,” Mrs. Reynolds says. “You’re a good person.”

Is it time for you to go now?”

“Yeah,” Mrs. Reynolds says, standing up. “I think it is. You should go see my mom before I leave. Tell her she has a lot of explaining to do, but that I’m not mad at her anymore.”

“I will,” Linda says. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. Please take care of yourself.”

“I will,” Linda promises. “Goodbye, Mrs. Reynolds.

Thank you for showing me what love really is.”

Mrs. Reynolds smiles at her and then turns to walk away. She disappears before Linda’s eyes and she stands up to go see Brenda’s mom.

She arrives just in time to see Brenda leaving. She knocks on the door and Mrs. Hayes comes out of the kitchen to see her.

Where’s Brenda?”

Linda asks, peering over her shoulder into the house.

“She just left,” Mrs. Hayes says. “

Did you have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t. In fact, she’s going to get engaged to her boyfriend in the next few days. I’m glad things worked out for her.”

“Me too,” Mrs. Hayes smiles at her. “I’m glad you were here to see it.”

When she gets home from the park, Linda makes one last stop at the post office. She finds a letter waiting for her there. She opens it up and smiles when she sees that it’s from Jacob.

He tells her that he hopes she and Brenda patched things up, but if they didn’t that she should know that she’s still loved no matter what.

Linda takes the ring out of her pocket and looks at it one last time before putting it back in its envelope. She’ll send it back to him soon, but not today. Today is a day for new beginnings.

Sources & references used in this article:

Indirect interactions mediated by changing plant chemistry: beaver browsing benefits beetles by GD Martinsen, EM Driebe, TG Whitham – Ecology, 1998 – Wiley Online Library

Using airborne lidar to predict Leaf Area Index in cottonwood trees and refine riparian water-use estimates by A Farid, DC Goodrich, R Bryant… – Journal of Arid …, 2008 – Elsevier

Nest-site selection by Cooper’s Hawks in an urban environment by CW Boal, RW Mannan – The Journal of wildlife management, 1998 – JSTOR

Maximizing benefits from riparian revegetation efforts: local-and landscape-level determinants of avian response by T Gardali, AL Holmes – Environmental Management, 2011 – Springer

Environmental benefits of poplar culture by JG Isebrands, DF Karnosky – Poplar Culture in North America, 2001 – NRC Research Press



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