Eastern cottonwoods continue shedding innumerable seeds, which are being blown around by the wind on their cottony down. In April, as the cottonwoods were blooming, the big male trees shed large amounts of pollen. Now, as the seed pods of the female trees burst and the minute, silky-haired seeds fall, it reminds us of the thistle and milkweed down of late summer and fall.

Cottonwoods usually grow in moist lowlands near rivers and streams and along lake shores and other moist slopes. This tall species is widespread and important east of the Rocky Mountains. In Minnesota, the majority of cottonwoods are found in the southern half of the state. Pioneers brought eastern cottonwoods to the treeless plains, and the species is still used as windbreaks and shade trees around farms on the prairies. Shade is provided by a broad crown filled with shiny green triangle-shaped leaves that rustle easily in the wind with the sound of a gentle summer rain.

Being a fast-growing tree, an eastern cottonwood could be 60 feet tall in 15 years. Its life span is short. At 75 years, it is an old tree, subject to decay, and 125 years is exceptionally old for a cottonwood.

The wood is light and soft, warps badly while drying and is difficult to split, but nevertheless is used for crates, packing material, paper pulp and firewood.