Cottonwoods, in the Poplar genus (populus), are fast-growing riparian trees which grow in the western United States. These are the tall, large-leaved trees you see in the desert, whenever there's water. Sometimes during droughts they will die back to little globs of leaf on each stem and are very picturesque. Cottonwoods can grow extremely fast, some up to 20 feet in a year! Also their roots grow extremely fast and can be damaging to structures. They dont really make a good tree for a suburb but are beautiful in parks or wide open areas, and can be full sized trees in about 20 years. They propagate mainly by broken branches lodged in floodplains... they often need floods to reproduce. sometimes after a flood hits an area the whole affected area will be covered by young cottonwoods in a few months.

My grandmother Maggie was raised on the farm, a place she despised for its monochrome. She was born on the rolling plains amid the dust and before the Depression. On a generous plot of farmland in a neat red-shuttered farmhouse, she grew. She knew the haze of the long roads that announced visitors in a cloud of dust on the horizon long before the wind brought the sound of their engine. She knew the smell of the incoming harvest married with the sweet pungency of bread and butter pickles and lemonade. She’d lug lunch out there with her ma, feeding the men cold fried chicken under the towering cottonwood in the south acreage. They told her that the tree missed winter so much that it made its own snowstorm for Memorial Day, when puffy cotton clumps would waft down and get caught in her raven hair. The tree planted there before Maggie was born was just for such a purpose; to shelter those working the fields while they ate under its swaying bows and make snowstorms in May.

In the wintertime when it was bare, you could see how all the branches, though they appeared to fan out in every direction, eventually gestured toward the northeast, as if it was hinting, or maybe just turning away. It bent to the will of the land and the weather, just like all the other trees, just like everything else. The winds, bellowing from the southwest, carried the choking dust and the swarms and the pounding thunderstorms and sometimes a tornado or two. Hers was a world of tight-lipped perseverance despite the unknown. Not every man or woman has that ability to gaze out, level-eyed, into the big sky that can make or break their livelihood. In the reckless violence of an afternoon storm the fields can be raped and battered. The persistence of a lingering clear cloudless blue can parch the land to its veins. That sky and the winds which painted it with an invisible touch brought life and death. Making one’s living from out of the earth and human toil makes for a certain calm of acceptance. Hers was a world of chance, salted with stoicism, peppered with heartbreak, and served under a sheltering tree.

Cot"ton*wood` (-w??d`), n. Bot.

An American tree of the genus Populus or polar, having the seeds covered with abundant cottonlike hairs; esp., the P. monilifera and P. angustifolia of the Western United States.


© Webster 1913.

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