Eastern Cottonwood

Eastern Cottonwood

Populus deltoides W. Bartram ex Marshall


Eastern cottonwood has several alternative common names:  cottonwood, common cottonwood, poplar and Eastern poplar.  It is a member of the willow family (Salicaceae) and can attain heights of 100 feet. ¹  It is fast growing. bit relatively short lived. ¹  Young bark is  ash-gray but becomes deeply furrowed and dark when mature.  It has gummy end buds, which distinguish it from other poplars.  The leaves are triangular, 3 to 6 inches long with sharply serrated margins. ¹  The base of the leaf has 2 to 3 glands. ³ The petiole is strongly flattened, which causes the leaves to flutter in a breeze.  Flowers are dioecious with male and female flowers on separate trees in early spring. ²  Male inflorescences are 3 to 5 inches long. ²   Female inflorescences are 6 to 12 inches long with green flowers and fruits. ² They are wind pollinated.  The seeds have silky white hairs resembling cotton. ¹

Eastern Cottonwood in Washington Co., Maryland (3/5/2017).

Bark of eastern cottonwood.  Maryland Biodiversity Project, J. Brighton ³

Eastern Cottonwood in fruit in Queen Anne's Co., Maryland (5/7/2019).

Leaves and fruit of eastern cottonwood.  Maryland Biodiversity Project, M. Breziat ³

Populus deltoides

Cottony seeds of eastern cottonwood.  @M. Kuo 4


Eastern cottonwood ranges from southern Quebec to Montana and south to Texas and the southeast. ²  It is primarily a bottomland species on sandy or gravel soils. ² In Maryland it is common along the Potomac River drainage system and is scattered elsewhere. ³

Distribution of eastern cottonwood.  Wikimedia 5

Wildlife Importance

Eastern cottonwood is host to several moth including the Cottonwood Twig Borer Moth, American Dagger Moth and Common Guphisia Moth. ³

Economic Importance

The wood of eastern cottonwood is soft with little value for structural timber, however it is used for pulp to make high grade paper. 6 It is planted for that purpose. ²


Eastern cottonwood is highly susceptible to fire both as saplings and mature trees. ²  There are numerous boring insects that affect the tree. ²

Interesting Facts

  • While the masses of cottony seeds makes the tree undesirable in horticulture, some plantings include only the male trees which produces no seeds. ²
  • Eastern cottonwood can grow up to 6 feet a year. 6
  • Eastern cottonwood produces oils used in lip balms. 6


  1. North Carolina Extension–Populus deltoides
  2. USDA Forest Service Silvics, Vol. 2: hardwoods–Populus deltoides
  3. Maryland Biodiversity Project–Eastern Cottonwood
  4. Midwesternnaturalist.com–Populus deltoides
  5. Wikimedia–Populus deltoides range map
  6. Kiddy:  24 Eastern Cottonwood Tree Facts You Have Not Read Before

Contributed by J. Hull

Towson University Glen Arboretum



Towson University