Cottonwood Seeds: Summer Snow

The cottonwood trees have begun to “go to seed” — it is starting to look like snow is falling in the forest:

Cottonwoods  are a kind of poplar tree — a very fast growing kind of tree — and are very tolerant of flooding and erosion (so are well-adapted for life in a floodplain). The leaves provide food for many kinds of butterflies and moths, such as the Viceroy, Mourning Cloak and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The downy seeds are used by birds as nesting material. I don’t know if people use cottonwoods for building material but I have read that it is used for making boxes, crates, and children’s toys. I have also read that cottonwood trees had other functions for people of the plains:

Pioneer homesteaders planted the fast-growing trees as windbreaks, cut them for fence posts and firewood, and worked the wood into baskets and boxes. Hollowed-out logs even served as canoes and cargo vessels.

To the Mohave Indians, the cottonwood was also a primary resource. They ate the tree’s raw catkins, consumed its inner bark as medicine, and wove baskets from its green twigs. The Hopi and Pueblo kachina dolls could only be carved from cottonwood roots–where good spirits lived.

According to that site, the tall cottonwood trees of the plains would also act as guideposts for travelers and would indicate that water was nearby. It was not uncommon for travelers to stop beneath a grove of cottonwood trees for shade and rest.

Cheers to the snowing tree of the floodplain, the provider of food and building material for different forms of life, a wayfinding tree for travelers in the prairie, the Cottonwood!


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