Populus trichocarpa (P. balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa)

black cottonwood

Habit: The tallest broad-leaved tree in the West, with a straight trunk, forming a broad open crown. The grayish-brown bark is rough and fissured. The dormant spring buds are lightly sticky with a fragrant smell. Leaves are dark green above, and pale below, heart shaped with a long pointed tip and finely toothed margins. Female and male flowers are arranged in catkins and housed on separate trees (dioecious).  Seeds are attached to white fluffy hairs, aiding in wind dispersal. In autumn, leaves turn a deep yellow.

Ecology: found in Western North America in riparian zones, including flood plains, moist woods on mountain slopes, and disturbed sites at elevations below 9100 ft (2800 m).

Growing Conditions: full sun in moist to wet soil. Tolerates winter flooding.

Black cottonwood may be planted as a windbreak and the aggressive root system makes it excellent for large-scale restoration projects of riparian areas. It is not ideal near homes, as the wandering roots will find septic systems and drain fields. Black cottonwood provides protection for the aquatic environment, and food and cover for a variety of wildlife, including large birds, deer, elk, and beaver.


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Type: Deciduous Tree
Height: 40-150 ft (12-50 m)
Width: 8-30 ft (2.5-10 m)
USDA Zones: 4-8
Map courtesy of USDA-NRCS Plants Database.