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Common Name : Plains Cottonwood
Populus deltoides monilifera is a large tree growing to 20–40 m (66–131 ft) tall and with a trunk up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft) diameter, one of the largest North American hardwood trees. The bark is silvery-white, smooth or lightly fissured when young, becoming dark gray and deeply fissured on old trees. The twigs are grayish-yellow and stout, with large triangular leaf scars. The winter buds are slender, pointed, 1–2 cm long (.039–0.79 inches), yellowish brown, and resinous. It is one of the fastest growing trees in North America. In Mississippi River bottoms, height growth of 10–15 ft per year for a few years have been seen. Sustained height growth of 5 foot height growth and 1 inch diameter growth per year for 25 years is common.
The leaves are large, deltoid (triangular), 4–10 cm (1.6–3.9 in) long and 4–11 cm (1.6–4.3 in) broad with a truncated (flattened) base and a petiole 3–12 cm (1.2–4.7 in) long. The leaf is very coarsely toothed, the teeth are curved and gland tipped, and the petiole is flat; they are dark green in the summer and turn yellow in the fall (but many cottonwoods in dry locations drop their leaves early from the combination of drought and leaf rust, making their fall color dull or absent). Due to the flat stem of the leaf, the leaf has the tendency to shake from even the slightest breeze. This is one of the identifying characteristics.
It is dioecious, with the flowers (catkins) produced on single-sex trees in early spring. The male (pollen) catkins are reddish-purple and 8–10 cm (3.1–3.9 in) long; the female catkins are green, 7–13 cm (2.8–5.1 in) long at pollination, maturing 15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in) long with several 6–15 mm (0.24–0.59 in) seed capsules in early summer, which split open to release the numerous small seeds attached to cotton-like strands.
An easily grown plant that does well in a heavy cold damp soil. Prefers a deep rich well-drained circumneutral soil, growing best in the south and east of Britain. Growth is much less on wet soils, on poor acid soils and on thin dry soils. It does not do well in exposed upland sites. It dislikes shade and is intolerant of root or branch competition. A fast-growing but short-lived species, it reaches maturity in 40 – 50 years and rarely lives as long as 100 years. Like the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) the leaves of this species rustle even in light breezes. Poplars have very extensive and aggressive root systems that can invade and damage drainage systems. Especially when grown on clay soils, they should not be planted within 12 metres of buildings since the root system can damage the building’s foundations by drying out the soil. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus.
Seed – must be sown as soon as it is ripe in spring. Poplar seed has an extremely short period of viability and needs to be sown within a few days of ripening. Surface sow or just lightly cover the seed in trays in a cold frame. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the old frame. If sufficient growth is made, it might be possible to plant them out in late summer into their permanent positions, otherwise keep them in the cold frame until the following late spring and then plant them out. Most poplar species hybridize freely with each other, so the seed may not come true unless it is collected from the wild in areas with no other poplar species growing. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season’s growth, 20 – 40cm long, November/December in a sheltered outdoor bed or direct into their permanent positions. Very easy. Suckers in early spring
Edible Uses: .Inner bark. A pleasant sweet flavour. There are no more details but inner bark is often dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups etc or added to cereals when making bread. Young shoots – cooked. The cottony fruit has been used by children as a chewing gum. (This almost certainly refers to the seedpods.)
The bark of most, if not all members of the genus contain salicin, a glycoside that probably decomposes into salicylic acid (aspirin) in the body. The bark is therefore anodyne, anti-inflammatory and febrifuge. It is used especially in treating rheumatism and fevers, and also to relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. The seed down has been used as an absorbent dressing on open sores.
Dye; Gum; Rooting hormone; Wood.
An extract of the shoots can be used as a rooting hormone for all types of cuttings. It is extracted by soaking the chopped up shoots in cold water for a day. A yellow dye is obtained from the seedpods. A yellow dye is obtained from the leaf buds. Wood – soft, rather woolly in texture, without smell or taste, of low flammability, not durable, very resistant to abrasion. It weighs about 22lb per cubic foot and is used for posts, veneer, baskets and fuel.
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