Eastern Poplar or Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
Eastern poplars are very fast growers, up to 4 or 5 feet a year. They may reach from 75 to 100 feet at maturity that is 60 to 75 years. As a poplar grows, its large canopy spreads nearly as wide as the tree is tall. Once it has reached maturity a poplar tree declines rapidly, its brittle branches falling victim to weather or disease.
Eastern poplar leaves emerge in early May. Between 3 and 6 inches long and 3 and 4 inches wide, they have a triangular shape and coarsely toothed edges. Light green in the spring, they brighten and darken as they mature. Like all poplars, eastern poplar leaves have distinctive flattened stems which causes them to twist in the breeze and show their glossy, lighter green undersides. Early in the fall, usually September, poplar foliage turns bright yellow before dropping.
Poplar trees bear male and female flowers on separate trees. Their drooping flowers, called catkins, emerge in mid to late April before the leaves appear. About 3 inches long, the catkins are bright red. As spring progresses those on female trees develop into drooping clusters of small, yellow-green conical capsules. These capsules dry and split, releasing silvery-white tufted seeds which blow in the wind, accounting for the tree's nickname "cottonwood". These seeds are coveted by many kinds of wildlife, especially songbirds, small mammals such as chipmunks and squirrels, waterfowl and deer.
Eastern Poplar Choices
Missouriensis is the southern version of the eastern poplar, Virginiana is the northern form. Siouxland is a male version with dark green leaves and nice habit. Male Poplars are not messy in the landscape. Some male types of eastern poplar are marked as "Cottonless Cottonwoods".