Cottonwood uses    Leverett, Robert
   Jun 04, 2003 13:39 PDT 


From 'Important Timber Trees of the United States' by Simon B. Eliot', published in 1912, Eliot says:

"Strictly speaking, it (cottonwood) should not be placed in the class of important timber trees, for except as will be noted, it is of little value for lumber alone; yet there are some uses to which it can be profitably put, whereby it may play an important part in the forest economy. It is a first class wood for paper pulp, and by its rapid growth it may be made to bring quicker returns than any other native forest tree. It can also be made useful in protecting stream banks from erosion, as it will thrive on ground too wet for trees that will produce more valuable lumber and which is too wet to cultivate. It is readily reproduced by sprouts from cut stumps and roots, and can be propagated by cuttings set in the ground where the trees are to stand. These features certainly warrant placing it in the list of trees worthy of cultivation.

It must not be said, however, that it is invariably of little value for lumber, for along the valleys of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers the character of the wood is quite different from that grown elsewhere, and it is there known as Yellow Cottonwood. Lumber cut from trees grown there is reported easy to work, can be dressed smooth, serves a fair purpose for work that is not exposed, will take on a good finish, and is adapted to many purposes for which Yellow Poplar is used. As there appears to be no marked botanical difference in the trees there and elsewhere, the difference in character of the wood is, no doubt. Caused by difference in soil, moisture, or climate conditions, or all of these --- features which affect all species of trees."

Eliot goes on to describe a characteristic of cottonwood that especially interests me: "But few of our native broadleaf trees will grow as tall in the open."

Eliot's distinction between the characteristics of the wood of the cottonwood in the eastern part of its range versus the western part is very interesting. I wonder how the lumber characteristics of other species varies in an east-west direction. White ash comes immediately to mind.



Bob:                 Jun 05, 2003 14:11 PDT 

Cottonwood was used in western MN during the 1800s. The pioneers on the
prairie didn't have much choice.

Cottonwood sawtimber is still used in MN today for crates and furniture,
especially in the core of furniture that will have a finished layer of oak,
maple or birch. Of course it is also used for pulp and firewood.

Red oak is a bit lighter in color than white oak, and that makes the wood
more desirable, since light colors are in fashion these days, at least in
the Midwest. Walnut, for example, is definitely out of vogue for flooring,
paneling and furniture, although it is still used for decorative
objects. Also, red oak grows faster than white oak, so it is better for
impatient foresters, and it is what's left after the white oak is gone. In
the absence of excessive deer, red oak regenerates more easily than white oak.


Colby:  Jun 09, 2003 13:39 PDT 

    I had to go to Hartford today and on the way an back observed cottonwoods near the Connecticut River. The area between Springfield and Hartford is loaded. Just loaded. I now have to find ways to get to them. The New England portion of the book on cottonwoods may well be written around this corridor of cottonwoods. Here is another tidbit on the cottonwood's value from 'Our Native Trees' by Harriet Keeler.

"It is proving itself an admirable shade-tree for the cities of the middle west where soft coal is burned. Its smooth glossy leaves have just enough natural varnish about them to keep the soot from clinging, and so they are bright and clean and healthy when those of the elm and the maple are soiled and choking and dying."

    Keeler wrote these words in 1900. Who among us today would think of the cottonwood's rise to glory as a shade tree as attributable to this feature? By 1917 Julia Elen Rogers the cottonwood was falling from grace. Roger's wrote the following words in her classic 'TREES'.

    "But the wind breaks the branches, destroys the symmetry of the tree's head, and in a few years the suburban community takes on a cheap and ugly look."

    The cottonwoods proper place is along the streams and in the wetlands where it forms its protective barrier that can quickly be regenerated from when high winds blow down limbs.