Populus deltoides W. Bartram ex Marshall

Salicaceae – Willow Family

Populus deltoides

English: Cottonwood, Eastern cottonwood, Basin cottonwood, Rio Grande cottonwood

Natural History

Cottonwood is a fast-growing tree native to much of the United States and southern Canada. Taxonomically it is often divided into different varieties with var. deltoides in the eastern portion of the country, var. occidentalis in the Great Plains, and var. wislizeni in the Four Corners region and New Mexico.  Cottonwood is a species of floodplains, washes, and bottomlands where it can form very large individuals with wide sweeping branches of large triangular-shaped leaves. In fact the specific epithet “deltoides” is derived from the Greek letter “delta” and the Latin root “oides” meaning “similar to.”  Ecologically cottonwood is very important in these floodplain ecosystems providing shade, food, and habitat for a wide range of other species.    

Plants of cottonwoods are botanically dioecious meaning that there are separate “male” and “female” trees, each producing a different type of flower. The female flowers will turn into small capsular fruits and produce copious quantities of seeds which are wind dispersed and thus tufted with small white “hairs”, the derivation of the common name cottonwood.

Human history and use

Wood from cottonwood can be used in woodworking and for rough construction and the inside portions of furniture.  While strong, it is not used for finish work due to a tendency to warp.

Medicinally the inner bark has been used to make tea for scurvy or heart burn.


Burns, R. M. and B. H. Honkala, tech. coords. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 p.

Dirr, M. 2009. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their identification, ornamental characteristics, culture, propagation and uses, 6th edition. Stipes Publishing LLC, Champaign, IL.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Populus deltoides. Available: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=pode3 (2021, December 06)