The blessed rains have assured our surviving trees will recover from the drought… the countryside is now wearing a canopy of lush greed for the first time since 2010. With the flourishing foliage comes the promise of shade, which is a must by the time July arrives.
As the Sun begins to shine again after what seem like weeks of cloud cover it may be noted it is somewhat brighter than it was twenty years ago. This fact has left gardeners with the challenge of providing a future environment that is comfortable and shade is the keyword. When wandering through a shaded park or woods, it may be noted it is cooler than the surrounding countryside... the canopy of the trees absorb heat, never allowing it to reach the ground. In light of this, our shade trees have attained a treasured place in our gardens and this seems to be the year of the Cottonwood. Although many elderly Cottonwoods succumbed to the drought, those who remained have produced seeds in the most proficient manner… it appears to be snowing in the garden.
The Cottonwood is of the Poplar family and is a close relative of the famous Quaking Aspens. With a long life expectancy, many of the existing Plains Cottonwoods possibly saw nomadic Native Americans camping beneath them; they were considered sacred for their gift of shade and wood. Dugout canoes were made from the wood and forage for horses was found in the bark, which was also boiled for a medicinal tea.
As the American settlers traveled west across the treeless Plains, Cottonwoods were a source of joy for their shade comfort. Since many Cottonwoods grow up to one hundred feet tall, a cluster of them created an oasis in the treeless travel across the plains. Today, Cottonwood is most commonly used in making plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp. Use as fuel is given unfavorable reports due to its lack of heat, however it is a perfect firewood to take the chill off a room. Although the Cottonwood is a hardwood, it has the rapid growth of a softwood, attaining height and breadth for harvest in under thirty years.
As with everything in the plant kingdom, there are pros and cons and the Cottonwood seeds are truly untidy. However when one hears the wind dancing in the leaves, gently whispering through them, this magnificent tree becomes magical indeed.