Cottonwood tree on Nebraska Kansas State Line, 2010
Young cottonwood trees grow almost as fast as grass, and they quickly adapt to droughts and floods. Along with aspens, willows and other members of the genus populus, cottonwoods have grappled with marginal soil for at least 24 million years. They helped beavers transform North America’s semi-arid valleys into lush, ecologically diverse gardens.
A mature cottonwood with access to abundant groundwater can transpire 10,000 gallons on a hot day. Like most trees, they’re cloud machines and rain makers. Though cottonwoods are hardy, they’re not particularly strong. They’ll drop leaves, twigs, branches and limbs in a process known as Cladoptosis. This ability to self-prune helps conserve water and nutrients.
Each leaf stem, or petiole, is roughly half the length of its leaf. Aerodynamically unstable, leaves flutter in the slightest breeze. The sound is like lazy rain. Since the beginning of the evolution of primates, we have heard this music while drinking at the water’s edge.
My partner Nadine’s lifelong affection for cottonwood trees and my interest in photographic landscapes motivated me to make these photographs. Copies of the book “Nadine’s Favorite Trees Are Cottonwoods” are available.
If cottonwoods and people could be said to share a few traits, one might say these trees are enthusiastic, adaptive and gracious.