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Cottonwoods can live for more than 130 years. Because of the land use in arid watersheds, the cottonwood riparian forests have been significantly decreased or destroyed. Livestock grazing has also been identified as a leading factor in the degradation of riparian habitats in the western United States.


Another example of tree habitats can be found in this abandoned Cottonwood located across the pathway from the Wolves viewing platform. It's been observed as the home to different species of birds.

Plains Cottonwood
Catalogue A# 2019-000 Native CG3

Children's Garden

An identifying characteristics of the cottonwood tree is that beacuase its leaves are sail-like shaped with long flat stems they have a tendency to tremble and flutter from even the slightest breeze.

Leaf: The leaf is very coarsely toothed, the teeth are curved and gland tipped, and the petiole is flat. The leaves are dark green in the summer and turn yellow in the fall. In dry locations they drop their leaves early from the combination of drought and leaf rust, leaving their fall color dull or absent. 
Flower | Seeds: Its flowers, called catkins, are produced on single-sex trees in early spring. In early summer seed capsules split open to release the numerous small seeds attached to cotton-like strands.
Trunk | Bark: The bark of a mature cottonwood is so thick that it can withstand fires with just minimum damage. Yet, they are also known for having “weak” wood and will drop branches occasionally, particularly during windy spells. 
Life span: Eastern cottonwoods typically live 70 to 100 years, but they have the potential to live 200 to 400 years if they have a good growing environment.
In natural conditions, Plains cottonwood trees typically grow near a water source. Cottonwood groves are typically indicitive that a water source is nearby as they consume large amounts of water in their growth cycle; a mature cottonwood tree uses 200 gallons of water a day. Cottonwoods are so dependent on water that they will drop leaves during an extended period of drought in order to conserve moisture. If a cottonwood root is cut, it will “bleed” water for days until the cut heals. 

Non-human: In addition to being a food source for many species, when a cottonwood loses a branch, it is likely the heartwood will begin to rot at the break, forming holes that make the ideal accommodations for birds, squirrels or bees to build nests.
Humans: American pioneers used the cottonwood’s leaves for animal fodder and herbal teas, its canopy for shelter and its wood for fire and crafts. Though cottonwood pollen aggravates allergies, these large, adaptable and hearty trees provide shade and beauty across the country. When used in home landscaping to provide cooling shade, space requirements can become an issue. As the tree matures, its roots will lift the soil surrounding the tree, referred to as root flair. 


This specimen is a perfect example of animal habitat. It has been left in place awaiting natural progression of life. It's core offers animals a perfect hiding place. Another specimen to look for can be found between the Sensory Garden and Dottie's Garden along the path on the left side. It was used by a raccoon family in 2018. Animal life can be best observed early morning or at dusk.

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