Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cottonwood Forest

The old cottonwood trees are dying
Isaac B Werner had catalpa trees (See "Isaac's Catalpa Trees," 5-30-2012 in the blog archives), Osage orange trees (See "Planting Osage Orange Trees," 3-15-2012), and maples, but the greatest number of trees were cottonwood trees that he planted with cuttings (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011).  Cottonwood trees were abundant in Isaac's community, but today the old favorites are dying.  I love cottonwood trees--the sounds of rustling taffeta as the breeze ruffles their leaves, the golden leaves against the bright blue of an autumn sky.  And, unlike most people, I also love the springtime snow fall of the cottonwood seeds drifting gently by.  Of course, that cottony fluff also clogs air conditioner compressors and collects in messy drifts to gather dust.  For me, the magic of the falling cotton is worth the resulting nuisance.

Cottonwood seeds on ground
Seeds still on branch
As our cottonwood trees at the farm age and fall to the ground (See "Threats to Timber Claims," 2-19-2015), we miss having them and have wanted to replant some.  However, all that we could find available from commercial tree nurseries were "cottonless" cottonwoods.  I considered the idea of trying to grow cottonwood trees from cuttings like Isaac did, but any tender cuttings on our old trees were too high for me to reach.

Our 'forest' of cottonwood seedlings
Spring of 2015 provided many successive days of rain at about the time the cottonwood seeds were falling, and it was the perfect environment for the seeds to collect along the edges of standing water, germinate, and produce seedlings. 

I noticed some little seedlings along the edges of the standing water, but never having noticed cottonwood seedlings before, I wasn't sure what the seedlings were.  I left them to grow so I could get a better look at their leaves.  For a time I was the only one who thought they were cottonwood seedlings, and even I wasn't sure.  Eventually the leaves began to take the recognizable shape and I was no longer the butt of jokes.  We had a wealth of seedlings from which to transplant potential trees.

I have now lifted a dozen of the seedlings into pots to see if 
Cottonwood seedlings in pots
they can survive being transplanted.  If they thrive, we will find a place for them, and the farm will once again have young cottonwood trees growing.  I'm sure most of our friends think we are a little crazy, planting what many have come to consider a trash tree, and what is worse, choosing trees that will produce the nuisance of cotton every spring.  But, judging from the number of followers of my blog who have expressed their affection for cottonwood trees, at least some of you will understand and will be cheering for our success in propagating these trees so popular with the early settlers of the prairie!


Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

W.F. wrote to me: "Thanks for posting the great article about cottonwoods. My favorite tree."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

L.K. wrote to me: "I love the sound of the leaves in the wind. ...I hope your trees will flourish."

Talya Tate Boerner said...

I love the idea of cottonwood seedlings! As someone who grew up at Cottonwood Corner, I worry about the aging trees around our home place. I remember staring out the window of the school classroom in early spring, longing for the bell to ring, longing for summer break to begin. The ground was covered in white like snow.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

G.S. shared with me a camping experience. "We were in a grove of cottonwood trees and a summer thunderstorm blew in during the night. Our little camper shook in the wind and the cottonwoods sounded like it was going to be the end for us all. But next morning the storm had damage anywhere. Just a lot of noise." He also reminded me of the volunteer cottonwoods growing around their pond. I was particularly impressed with his story about gathered acorns about which he "consulted the experts on YouTube" and followed the instructions. G.S. wrote: "They stayed moist in a Zip Lock bag in the refrigerator over the winter, then planted in pots in the spring. Amazing how many germinated and did well last summer, but probably half of them didn't survive the winter. This spring I transplanted 4 on the east side of our lot, [and] 3 are still alive." I have posted a photo on my Lynda Beck Fenwick author page on face book that he shared with me of his collection of potted seedlings. You can visit my page to see the photo, and if you haven't already become a friend with my face book author page, I welcome you to join.

The Blog Fodder said...

If cottonwoods and poplars are the same, then I am on your side. Poplar bluffs are common in Saskatchewan though not as majestic unless they are isolated and have room to grow.
I ran into this which may be of interest to you as you set out to repoplarate your neighbourhood.
This area has a great many Russian poplars which I dearly love - tall, stately, meant for lining driveways to princely estates.