One of the fastest growing poplar trees in North America, the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) grows approximately 100 ft. tall, and can live 100-200 years. It is the largest hardwood tree of its species, commonly known as Black Poplar.
The trees grow on the west coast, along rivers and streams, in sandy soil, and provide nesting and perching for birds such as the bald eagle, osprey, blue heron, and Canada geese. Rabbits and hares also consume the black cottonwood’s inner bark and stem base. The tree supplies food for wildlife, especially beaver, deer, and elk. Flying squirrels also nest in its trunk cavities.
Cottonwood trees are commonly found in moist ground, and are tolerate of flooding, and they are useful as shelters and windbreakers. The wood of the tree is light in color and not very strong, and it can be damaged by harsh winters. Branches break easily, and the trees are vulnerable to decay. Leaves are broad, dark green, and wedge or heart-shaped with a silvery shine beneath. The black cottonwood typically has a straight, branch-free trunk for more than half its length and has a broad, wide spread open crown, perfect for shading.
Cottonwood’s also have invasive and massive, shallow root systems that slow down erosion and stabilize riverbanks, which actually helps to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.
The pulp of the tree is used for making boxes, crates, pallets, and high-grade book and magazine paper. It is also popular for producing plywood, veneer, paneling, and fiberboard for concealed parts in furniture.
Within ten years, the black cottonwood will display white, fragrant flowers in April that grow in catkins, and the seed production is consistent and overly abundant. The cotton from the seedpod, looks like fine, silky hairs, and is lightweight and wind pollinated. After releasing the pollen, the seeds can travel far by water and wind, which makes germination rates high, especially when moist conditions persist. The seedling establishment among vegetation however is very low, and few seedlings will survive where other vegetation grows. Since the trees grow rapidly, and normally sprout from stumps, the black cottonwood has been studied for use in intensive culture, and plantation management. During the winter, the buds on the cottonwood are identified by their length and balsam fragrance, as well as for their orange-brown color.
The black cottonwood is susceptible to canker disease, and wood decaying fungi infection. Young trees in particular are at risk of injury or killed by late frost, fungal decay, high winds, or ice. Black cottonwood is frequently damaged, or considerably injured by fire, regardless of its severity, and usually young trees are killed, according to the Forestry Canada, Pacific Forestry Centre. Another study by Ecological Society of America, shows the black cottonwood trees have a surprising amount of genetic diversity, and much research is being done on the genome-wide analysis of the cottonwood tree.