The Orphaned Woods: The Eastern Cottonwood Tree

I walk through the woods differently than I used to.  Now I pay special attention to the color and texture of the bark on the trees.

I’m beginning to see the subtle distinctions between them, even if I still can’t identify them.  Just from noticing the tree trunks, I can see there are so many more species than I ever imagined.

It reminds me of when I first realized that all my sheep had their own personalities.

This time of year, without leaves or buds or fruit to help with identification, the bark is sometimes the only information I have.  So I’m getting to know the trees with the most distinctive bark first.

That’s why when I followed Fate and Zinnia over the crumbled stone wall and slouching barbed wire fence into the old pasture and saw the towering tree with the thick grooved bark, I thought I’d be able to figure out what it was.

In the past, I would have just assumed the tree was some kind of Oak.  Mostly because it was one of the few trees I knew.  But after looking through my Audubon Field Guide To Trees,  I don’t make those kinds of assumptions anymore.

And then, as if to give me another clue,  there were two leaves frozen onto a bare patch of ice at the foot of the tree.

The two leaves frozen in the ice

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the leaves belong to that tree. But when I looked at photos online and read the description of the tree and leaf, it led me to believe that the tree is an Eastern Cottonwood.

The Eastern Cottonwood

Although the photo of the bark in my Field Guide doesn’t look so much like the bark on this tree, I’ve learned that a single photo of tree bark isn’t really helpful.  The bark can change in appearance so much depending on the size and age of the tree.

But the description of the tree as being a “Large tree with a massive trunk often forked…open crown… and slightly dropping branches” fit.  Also, Cottonwoods border streams and this one is on a pond.

And I was able to find pictures of the bark online of bigger trees,  that looked like the bark on this tree.

The tree isn’t easy to get to in the spring and summer, the pasture will be overgrown and loaded with ticks that time of year. But seeing the seeds which look like cotton, and where the tree gets its name from, would make its identification certain.

Although I did get a feeling when I saw the two leaves in the ice that it was a gift.  As if the Cottonwood wanted to be known.

8 thoughts on “The Orphaned Woods: The Eastern Cottonwood Tree

  1. Much like our cottonwoods out here in the west. Love these trees, with their incredible bark, and size, and heart-shaped leaves. Even beautiful in winter, as Georgia O’Keeffe painted them.

  2. Excellent. More new arboreal information to take with me on my next walk in the woods. My path borders a reservoir so I too was likely not giving the Eastern Cottonwood it’s due respect. Until we observe and notice individual distinctions, humans tend to over generalize things, don’t we?
    Science is so vast — from infinite galaxies and red planets to subatomic particles and genetic chromosomes; from the weather systems that can cause destruction in one area and yet, in another, provide the raindrops that fall in the streams from which they’re collected, bottled and shipped to the people affected; from the massive mammals to the microscopic bio-organisms and from the tallest tree to the smallest sprout, each of which have their part to play in the ecosystem and usually only upon it’s destruction do we learn what vital function it had been providing us — that if we try to apply that consideration to everything we encounter in life, and consider how tiny a part of the world we individuals are but yet how large an effect we can individually have on it (the Army of Good and other groups of its kind!), then there may yet be hope for our species and our planet. We cannot exist without cooperation with all that exists around us.

    (sheesh. Sorry if I was expounding, but both yours and Jon’s blogs help make me think more broadly and try to live a more impactful life. For which I’m grateful.)

  3. When our daughter was young, we lived by a river. There were so many cottonwood trees that when the “cotton” blew around, she would spend a lot of her time collecting it and using it in art projects! That time of year always brings that memory back to my mind…nice memories!

  4. I can imagine how much fun that must have been for your daughter, Gloria. I can remember “cooking” with the pods from the Catalpa tree in our front yard when I was a kid.

  5. Don’t be sorry Amy! Thank you for your very wise and true words. You add important thoughts to the the story. I keep learning how much more life and variety there is around me all the time.

  6. I first became aware of Cottonwoods when I was in New Mexico Jill. They do stand out there and I came to love them, but never knew we had them here. I’m familar with O’Keeffe’s painting of them too. We have a poster of one in our living room. 🙂

  7. What’s fascinating is when you visit her house, you can see the exact same trees she was painting.

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