We Love Our Cottonwood Trees!
Some people don’t like Cottonwoods because in June they release fluffy white seeds that fly through the air and land on everything! But, we think Cottonwoods are amazing! Cottonwood trees can live to be over 100 years old and grow to be huge! These trees on our property are estimated to be over 100 years old. Cottonwoods can be either male or female, but only the female produce the cottony seeds in spring. We only have one female cottonwood tree on our property. Cottonwoods are part of the Poplar tree family and their leaves capture the slightest breeze, making them quake and shimmer just like their cousins planted on our property in 2017 – the Quaking Aspen.
They Provide Wonderful Shade
The tree pictured above has been named our “Story Tree”. We gather under its sheltering branches on a hot sunny day during our children’s programs to enjoy almost 20 degree difference in its shade! We have placed a bench under that tree so you can enjoy sitting and watching the leaves quake and shimmer in the breeze, or take time to read for a while.
They Are Living Landmarks
Cottonwoods are commonly found along streams or rivers because they tolerate wet conditions. In fact, the sight of a row of cottonwoods in the distance was welcomed by pioneers and wagon train scouts, as it signified water on an often parched prairie and offered shade and wood for campfires. American pioneers used the cottonwood’s leaves for animal fodder and herbal teas, its canopy for shelter and its wood for fire and crafts.
Cottonwoods consume large amounts of water in their growth cycle; a mature cottonwood tree uses 200 gallons of water a day!
Revered By Native Americans
The cottonwood tree is sacred to many Native Americans and they have many old stories they tell about this tree. Its roots were used for carving kachina dolls, masks, and other ceremonial objects by the Hopi, Pueblo, and Navajo tribes. It is a medicine tree in many Plains Indian tribes, with sacred poles and sun dance artifacts made from cottonwood trunks and branches. In this region, the Ho-Chunk carved dugout canoes from cottonwood trees. Cottonwood bark and leaves were also used as medicinal herbs by many different tribes, particularly to treat wounds and swelling. The sticky resin from the buds were used as a type of glue. They also made a yellow dye from the buds. Native children made toy tipis and toy moccasins from the leaves and gathered the seeds to use as chewing gum-like treats. Girls and young women used the leaves as a type of whistle to make a bird like sound.
The Healing Tree
Balm of Gilead is one remedy made from the fragrant buds of the tree. It has many uses and is believed to be anti-inflammatory with anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. Herbalist today still use the cottonwood tree for many remedies.
References and Resources:
- YouTube Story of The Star in the Cottonwood Tree – Dakotah story read by Mary Louise Defender Wilson
- Cottonwood Stars, Cottonwood Tipis
- Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region By Melvin Randolph Gilmore
- Cottonwood – Salves and Lore by Adian White – Iowaherbalist.com
- How to Make Balm of Gilead or Cottonwood Oil by John Gallagher – LearningHerbs.com
- Losing our cottonwoods: What’s at stake? – Friends of Mississippi River
- The secret of the Cottonwood tree By Marilyn Kutzli – The Clinton Herald
- Rotten Cotton: My Love/Hate Affair with the Cottonwood Tree by Rhonda Hayes, The Star Tribune
- The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion – book by Kathleen Cain – Amazon link