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ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 


\ Cottonwoods of the Midwest: 
■ / A Community Profile 


by Wilma Mitchell, Jean O’Neil, and Antisa Webb 


PURPOSE: This profile was prepared to assist researchers at the U.S. Army Engineer District, 
Omaha and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in preparing a 
community-based index model for the cottonwood (Populus spp.) community. The profile will also 
supply requirements and suggestions for restoration initiatives on the Missouri River. The cotton¬ 
wood community is defined as a plant community dominated by cottonwood trees, with associated 
plant and animal species, commonly found in floodplains and the next higher elevations. This profile 
addresses two species of cottonwoods over their range but highlights Midwestern literature, 
specifically Nebraska and South Dakota. Preparation of the profile was funded as part of a reim¬ 
bursable project for the Omaha District of the U.S. Anny Corps of Engineers and the Community 
Templates research work unit in the Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program 
(EMRRP). Dr. Wilma A. Mitchell, Dr. L. Jean O’Neil, and Antisa C. Webb, ERDC Environmental 
Laboratory (EL), Vicksburg, Mississippi, prepared this technical note. 

BACKGROUND: In their assessment of ecological communities that have been subjected to severe 
loss and degradation, Noss et al. (1995) provided literature that describes large percentage losses to 
the plant communities of many riparian and floodplain systems across the county. Lytle and Merritt 
(2004) cited numerous studies documenting the decline of the cottonwood community, with reasons 
largely related to changes in hydrologic flows in the last decades and related changes in groundwater 
and sediment movement. River regulation may cause declines in cottonwoods through manifestation 
of water stress and consequent reduced root and leaf structure (Williams and Cooper 2005). 
Specifically along the Missouri River, cottonwood stands are aging and dying without sufficient 
recruitment and maturation, leading to a concern for other resources of the river (U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (USFWS) (2000), such as First Nation cultural elements, the threatened bald eagle 
(.Haliaeetus leucocephalus), riparian fauna, and cavity-nesting birds (Shafroth et al. 1995). 

Cottonwoods are large, fast-growing, deciduous trees widely adapted to moist, well-drained soils of 
streams, rivers, and floodplains across the United States and parts of Canada (Harlow et al. 1979) 
(Figure 1). 

Cottonwoods live from 60 to 200 years; some individuals alive today likely co-existed with bison 
herds that roamed the Great Plains in past centuries (Great Plains Nature Center 2006). Recreations 
of even earlier vegetation patterns show cottonwoods as a component of the forested and floodplain 


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Cottonwoods of the Midwest: A Community Profile 

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ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
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Figure 1. Cottonwoods growing along the Missouri River. 


environment (Nelson et al. 1997). Cottonwoods in the Midwest grow abundantly in alluvial flood- 
plains and on upland prairies with adequate sources of moisture (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). 
In the prairie states, a winding belt of green cottonwood crowns usually indicates the presence of a 
stream or water course (Harlow et al. 1979). 

COTTONWOOD SPECIES: Cottonwoods belong to the same family (Salicaceae) as the willows 
(Salix spp.) and poplars ( Populus spp.). The most widespread species in the Midwest are the eastern 
(P. deltoides deltoides ) and plains cottonwoods (P. deltoids occidentalis ) (Cooper and Van 
Haverbeke 1990). Cottonwood species found in the western United States include black cottonwood 
(P. balsamifera trichocarpa) on the west coast, Fremont cottonwood (P. fremontii ) in the Southwest, 
and narrowleaf cottonwood (P. angustifolia ) in western mountain ranges (Preston 1961). Swamp 
cottonwood (P. heterophylla) occurs on the southern coastal plain and in the Mississippi and Ohio 
River drainages (Johnson 1994). This note focuses on the eastern and plains cottonwoods that 
predominate in the Midwestern states. Taxonomy is frequently confusing because these species 
hybridize at overlapping range boundaries. In this profile, plains cottonwood is considered to be a 
variety because of the treatment in Bums et al. (1990). Common names of eastern cottonwood also 
include southern cottonwood, Carolina poplar, and eastern poplar (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 
1990). Plains cottonwoods are also called Texas cottonwood, river cottonwood, plains poplar, and 
western cottonwood (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). 


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PLANT DESCRIPTION: The eastern cottonwood is a large, deciduous tree typically growing 
24.4 to 30.5 m (80 to 100 ft) tall (Harlow et al. 1979) and often to over 50 m (164 ft) (Cooper and 
Van Haverbeke 1990), and up to 1.8 m (6 ft) in diameter at breast height (dbh) (Bechtold et al. 
1990). Cottonwoods growing on open sites develop a spreading crown supported by a massive trunk 
that is often divided near the ground and terminates in an extensive superficial root system (Harlow 
et al. 1979). In closed stands, the tree has a tall, straight, relatively branch-free bole with a small 
rounded crown. Plains cottonwoods can grow to approximately 29 m (98 ft) with a dbh up to 2 m 
(6.5 ft) (Read 1958, Kdminster et al. 1977). Cooper and Van Haverbeke (1990) reported that plains 
cottonwoods are usually single-stemmed with an open crown. Rooting habit of a plains cottonwood 
tree varies with the soil, from approximately 1.2 m (4 ft) or less in dry soils, to several meters in 
moist sites. 

The deltoid leaves are 7.6 to 15 cm (3 to 6 in.) long and 10 to 12.5 cm (4 to 5 in.) wide with margins 
that have glandular, rounded to sharp teeth (Harlow et al. 1979). The leaf apex is acute to acuminate, 
and the base is truncate to chordate. The petiole is 3.8 to 7.6 cm (1.5 to 3 in.) long, glandular, and 
flattened. Both leaf surfaces are smooth; the dorsal surface is lustrous green, whereas the ventral 
surface is much paler. The twigs are stout, yellowish-brown, and smooth with lustrous brown, 
resinous buds approximately 1.9 cm (0.75 in.) long. The bark is light greenish-yellow and smooth on 
young stems but becomes ash-gray, thick, corky, and deeply furrowed on mature trees. Both male 
and female flowers are in catkins; the male catkins have bright red stamens (Ellis and Chester 1980). 
The tiny, light brown seeds are attached to tufts of silky hairs, which aid in wind dispersal and give 
the plant its common name. Female trees produce enormous quantities of seeds, averaging 
159,000 per kg (350,000 per lb) (Harlow et al. 1979). 

DISTRIBUTION 

Eastern Cottonwood: The native range of eastern cottonwood encompasses most of the eastern 
United States from the Rocky Mountains to the southern Atlantic coast (Harlow et al. 1979). The 
range extends from southern Quebec westward into southwestern Manitoba and North Dakota, south 
to central Texas, and east to northwestern Florida and the lower coastal plain states (Cooper and Van 
Haverbeke 1990). The distribution covers the area from latitude 28° N to 46° N, with the exception 
of the higher Appalachians, southern Florida, and the Gulf Coast. Altitude is the primary detenniner 
of the western boundary, which is not well-defined because of the intergradations of eastern and 
plains cottonwoods in this region. 

Plains Cottonwood: Plains cottonwoods occur in a broad band approximately 2400 km 
(1500 miles) long and 800 km (500 miles) wide, which extends southeasterly from the southern 
prairie provinces of Canada into the high plains of northern Texas (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 
1990). It grows from southern Alberta, central Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba in 
Canada, south through the Great Plains of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and 
western Oklahoma into north central Texas and extreme northeastern New Mexico, and north into 
Colorado, eastern Wyoming, and eastern Montana (Figure 2). This range spans the longitude from 
92° to 115° W and the latitude from 30° to 55° N. The eastern limit is not well-defined because 
eastern and plains cottonwoods intergrade along this boundary. 


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Figure 2. The distributions of eastern cottonwood and plains cottonwood, showing region of overlap along 
their western and eastern limits. 


FUNCTIONS AND USES 

Ecological Value: In natural ecosystems, both eastern and plains cottonwoods are an integral 
component of floodplain and riparian forests (Weaver 1968). They establish on the ba nk s of rivers 
and are the only vegetative type growing on some eroding shores and may be the only tree species 
present on prairie landscapes. Cottonwoods are frequently planted as an ornamental to provide 
quick, but temporary, esthetic and protective effects. Cottonwoods are planted near homes to provide 
shade on open sites, stabilize soils along stream or ditch banks, and reforest nonproductive sandy 
fields that contain adequate moisture. Plains cottonwoods are planted in the Great Plains as a major 
tree component of windbreaks and shelterbelts (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). A wind barrier 
12 to 15 m (40 to 50 ft) tall can be produced in 15 to 20 years on stream lowlands and on deep, 
sandy, sub-irrigated lands. Eastern cottonwoods are well suited for revegetating disturbed riparian 
sites and have been used extensively in the reclamation of strip-mined lands in the East (Brothers 
1988, Muncy 1989). Plains cottonwoods have been used to reestablish woody plants on mine spoils 
of the northern High Plains (Bjugstad 1977). 

Branches, twigs, and leaves that fall from riparian woody species are a source of carbon and other 
nutrients to the soil and water (Malanson 1993); trees and their roots capture sediment and may help 
alter hydrologic processes. As a component of the floodplain forest, cottonwoods provide habitat for 
many species of birds to roost, nest, and feed in the branches and bole. Because of their ability to 
transpire, cottonwoods have been examined for their use in phytoremediation (Vose et al. 2000). 


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Commercial Uses: Eastern cottonwood is a valuable timber species that is highly suitable for 
plantation management for commercial purposes (Funck et al. 1981, Krinard and Johnson 1984). 
Primary wood products include lumber, veneer, plywood, excelsior, fiberboard, saw-timber, and 
pulpwood; finished wood products include pallets, furniture, and food containers (Taylor 2001). 
Eastern cottonwood has been used in rural Iowa to rehabilitate and construct timber bridges in recent 
years (Lee and Ritter 1997). Plains cottonwood is not considered to be as commercially valuable as 
eastern cottonwood. Plains species are used for pallets, rough construction lumber, interior parts of 
furniture, excelsior, crating, and pulpwood, which produce a very high-grade gloss paper (Cooper 
and Van Haverbeke 1990). Other uses include livestock roughage and fiber and reconstituted wood 
products. 

Wildlife Benefits 

Eastern Cottonwood. Both eastern and plains cottonwood are important to the wildlife species of 
their native ranges. Eastern cottonwood provides many benefits for wildlife species, including 
shelter for large mammals, browse in early successional stages for herbivores, food and pole-size 
trees for dam construction by beavers ( Castor canadensis), and nesting sites for large raptors, such 
as the bald eagle (Figure 3) (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Bald eagles using the Missouri 
River main stem system depend on adjacent cottonwood forests for both nesting and wintering 
habitat (LJSFWS 2000). In the eastern United States, the Indiana bat (Myotissodalis ) sometimes uses 
large cottonwoods for nursery colonies (Brady 1983). In the Southeast, cottonwood plantations 
provide excellent habitat for a variety of recreationally important species such as the white-tailed 
deer ( Odocoileus virgianus ) and eastern cottontails ( Sylvilagus floridanus ) throughout the year and 
brood habitat for wild turkey ( Meleagris gallopavo ) and northern bobwhite (Colinns virgianus) in 
the spring (Wesley et al. 1981). In the northern Great Plains, eastern cottonwoods are a component 



Figure 3. Cottonwoods provide nesting sites for large raptors such as the bald 
eagle. 


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of riparian forest and moist woodlands that may provide up to 50 percent of deer ( Odocoileus spp.) 
habitat and 70 percent of sharp-tailed grouse ( Tympanuchus phasianellus) habitat (Taylor 2001). 
Field mice ( Peromyscus spp.), rabbits ( Sylvilagus spp.), deer and domestic livestock (Bull and Munz 
1943, Johnson 1965) eat the bark and leaves of cottonwood seedlings and saplings. 

Plains Cottonwood. Plains cottonwood is particularly important for wildlife on the Great Plains. 
Plains cottonwood bottomlands provide the only natural habitat for eastern fox squirrels ( Sciurus 
niger ), which use the stands for nesting and foraging (Yeager 1959). Cottonwood stands provide 
habitat for 82 percent of bird species breeding in northeastern Colorado (Segelquist et al. 1993). 
Species using cottonwood bottomlands in the Midwest include the sharp-tailed grouse (Swenson 
1985), Swainson’s hawk ( Buteo swainsoni ) (Gilmer and Stewart 1984), Lewis’ woodpecker 
(Melanerpes lewis) (Hadow 1973), wild turkey (Miller et al. 1991), and golden eagle (. Aquila 
chiysaetos) (Phillips and Beske 1990). Beavers use the wood of plains cottonwood for food and dam 
and lodge building materials (Hansen et al. 1994). In Montana, plains cottonwood is an important 
source of food for porcupines ( Erethizon dorsatum) (Hendricks and Allard 1988) and browse for 
mule deer {(). hemionus ) (Martinka 1968). Domestic livestock also use cottonwood communities for 
forage and shade in summer and for thennal cover in winter (Bjugstad and Girard 1984). 

HABITAT CHARACTERISTICS 

Climatic Conditions: Both eastern and plains cottonwood are subject to considerable variation in 
climatic conditions throughout their ranges. 

Eastern cottonwood. Eastern cottonwood grows in climates with temperatures as high as 46 °C 
(115 °F) and as low as -45 °C (-50 °F); average January temperatures vary from 8 °C (46 °F) to 
-10 °C (14 °F) (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Eastern cottonwood occurs in areas with less 
than 100 to more than 200 consecutive frost-free days per year. Rainfall varies from more than 
140 cm(55 in.) in the southern part of the range to lessthan38 cm(15 in.) in the northwest. Rainfall 
requirements are meaningless in the driest parts of its range because most moisture is derived from 
streams. In the lower Mississippi Valley, more than one-third of the rainfall occurs during the 
growing season after a full subsoil recharge during the winter and sometimes after flooding. 
Although moisture is usually inadequate for optimum growth by the latter part of the growing 
season, eastern cottonwood is tolerant to drought (Dickmann and Stuart 1983, Gebre and Kuhns 
1991). 

Eastern cottonwood has been classed as moderately tolerant to waterlogged soils (Hosner and Boyce 
1962, Hook 1984). It tolerates periodic flooding from January through April, but mortality and 
growth depend on the number of events per year, season of year, flooding duration and depth, and 
age class (Green 1947, Hosner 1958, Hook 1984, McKevlin 1992). A study using cuttings found that 
cottonwood survived less than 16 days of complete submergence (Hosner 1958), and roots died 
when soaked for more than one month (Hosner and Boyce 1962). 

Plains cottonwood. Plains cottonwood grows in the Great Plains region, which is characterized as 
subhumid to semiarid, with extremes and rapid fluctuations in temperature, unpredictable and 
limited precipitation, frequent and cyclic droughts, and strong persistent winds (Bates 1935). 
Maximum temperatures range from 38 °C (100 °F) to 46 °C (115 °F) throughout the region, with 


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minimum temperatures of -46 °C (-50 °F) in the north to -18 °C (0 °F) in the south (Thornthwaite 
1941). Average January temperatures vary from 4 °C (40 °F) in the south to -15 °C (5 °F) in the 
north, and the frost-free period varies from 100 days in the north to 220 days in the south. Average 
annual rainfall ranges from about 25 cm (10 in.) in the northern and western Great Plains to about 
76 cm (30 in.) in the southeastern part of the range; about 75 percent of the annual precipitation 
occurs during the growing season. Drought periods of 35 to 60 consecutive days occur annually, and 
periods of 60 to 70 days without rainfall occur once in 10 years. Drought periods of 90 to 120 days 
have occasionally been recorded in the northern and southern plains, respectively. Drought hazard is 
greatest in autumn and winter in the northern plains and in winter in the southern plains, where 
snowfall is less. High-velocity winds occur in all seasons but are strongest and most persistent 
during winter and early spring. 

Soils and Topography: Cottonwoods are typically found along bodies of water or associated 
with upland areas containing a high water table. 

Eastern cottonwood. This species occurs at elevations of78to 1981 m(255to 6500ft)(Bell 1974, 
Bellah and Hulbert 1974). It is usually found as a well-formed tree at elevations up to 4.6 to 6.1 m 
(15 to 20 ft) above the average level of streams (Putnam et al. 1960). Eastern cottonwood grows 
primarily on the moist alluvial soils of floodplains and bottomlands (Wilson 1970, Myers and 
Buchman 1984, Powell 1988). In the lower Mississippi River Valley, the best sites are inthebatture 
(the alluvial land between the river and levee), where the species grows on the front land ridges, the 
high land or banks of present or former stream courses, well-drained flats, and the terrain between 
low ridges (Putnam et al. 1960). On slopes, cottonwood grows on the lower levels that remain moist 
throughout the growing season. It is also found in ravines (Bjugstad and Girard 1984), along 
disturbed streams (Hupp 1992), and in low areas of sandy uplands with a high water table (Wilson 
1970). Although eastern cottonwood survives on deep, infertile sands and clays, it grows best on 
moist, well-drained, fine sandy or silt loams (Baker and Broadfoot 1979). Most cottonwood sites are 
in soils of the orders Entisols and Inceptisols (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). The best sites are 
characterized by the absence of mottles in the upper 46 cm (18 in.), water tables from 60 to 180 cm 
(24 to 72 in.), bulk density of less than 1.4 g/cm3 (0.8 oz/in.3), pH of 5.5 to 7.5, and more than 
2 percent organic matter. 

Plains cottonwood. This species typically grows between elevations of about 300 m (1,000 ft) near 
its eastern limit to about 1830 m (6000 ft) in the Rocky Mountains (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 
1990). It has been found as high as 2743 m (9000 ft) in Wyoming (Dittbemer and Olson 1983). 
Plains cottonwood grows along most rivers and streams that flow through the loessial soils of the 
Great Plains on sites that are 2.4 to 3.7 m (8 to 12 ft) above the water table (Albertson and Weaver 
1945). This species is common in homogenous stands on river sandbars and overflow land in the 
bends of large rivers and is also found in the beds of intermittent streams. Plains cottonwood occurs 
on small sandbars in the river beds or large bends where stream flow is greatly retarded during high 
water; it is also found next to springs that flow long enough to form ponds (Read 1958, Keammerer 
et al. 1975). Plains cottonwood grows on sandy soils (Johnson et al. 1976) or well-drained soils with 
a high water table to supply year-round moisture (Albertson and Weaver 1945). It is found in 
Entisols along alluvial streams, and in Mollisols, Alfisols, and Inceptisols of stream terraces, 
drainage ways, bottomlands, and subirrigated valleys. It will also grow on level subirrigated uplands 
with deep, sandy soils. Plains cottonwood grows best on deep, rich, well-drained loams. However, 


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moisture availability appears to be more significant to plains cottonwood than soil texture or fertility 
(Read 1958). 

Hydrology: Establishment of cottonwoods is highly dependent on stream hydrology (Rood et al. 
2003), such that cottonwoods may be considered an indicator of natural stream systems. Both 
surface water flows and groundwater are important; for example, Harner and Stanford (2003) found 
higher productivity in cottonwoods growing in stream reaches where groundwater was rejoining 
surface water; a higher water table and increased level of nutrients were considered responsible. 
River configuration and flows determine when and where moist and bare substrate will occur, which 
is necessary for cottonwood recruitment (Larson and Borman 2001). 

The wetland indicator is Facultative for cottonwood in the North Plains (Region 4 1 ) and the Central 
Plains (Region 5 2 ) (USFWS 1988). This shows that cottonwood species are equally likely to occur in 
wetlands and non-wetlands (i.e., the estimated probability is 34 to 66 percent). In the North Central 
states (Region 3 3 ), cottonwood is classed as Facultative Plus, indicating that it is more frequently 
found in wetlands than in uplands. 

PLANT ASSOCIATES: Both eastern and plains cottonwoods are associated with a wide variety of 
other plants. This section describes plant associates of the two profiled species, and then focuses in 
to the northern floodplain forest, then closer to the Missouri River in Nebraska and South Dakota. 

Eastern Cottonwood: Eastern cottonwood occurs as a dominant or co-dominant component of 
floodplain and bottomland hardwood forests (Curtis 1959, Hosner and Minckler 1960, Myers and 
Buchman 1984). Throughout its range, it grows in pure stands as on the alluvial soils in the 
Mississippi Valley (Harlow et al. 1979), but more frequently occurs in mixed stands with a wide 
variety of other trees and shrubs (Bell 1974). It is a principal species in riverfront forests in the 
eastern United States (Meadows and Nowacki 1996) and is the key species in the forest cover type 
Cottonwood (Society of American Foresters Type 63) (Eyre 1980). Eastern cottonwood is an 
associate in the following forest types: Black ash-American elm-red maple 4 (Type 39), bur oak 
(Type 42), river birch-sycamore (Type 61), silver maple-American elm (Type 62), sweetgum-willow 
oak (Type 92), sycamore-sweetgum-American elm (Type 94), and black willow (Type 95). The 
shrub components of eastern cottonwood forests are chiefly hardwood seedlings until the canopy 
closes and shades out the less-tolerant younger plants and shrub species. Common and frequently 
abundant woody vines in floodplain forests include grape, bittersweet, greenbrier, poison ivy, 
Virginia creeper, and virgin’s bower (Weaver 1968). Major tree, shrub, and vine associates of 
eastern cottonwood are listed in Table Al. Forbs and graminoids may be understory components of 
the more open forests. The most common of these are provided in Table A2. 

Plains Cottonwood: Although plains cottonwood grows in homogenous stands, it is frequently an 
associate in three forest cover types: Bur oak (Type 42), Cottonwood (Type 63), and Cottonwood- 
willow (Type 235) (Eyre 1980). Black willow and peachleaf willow are the most common tree 


1 Eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Wyoming. 

2 Eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas. 

3 Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin. 

4 Scientific names of most species are provided in Tables Al and A2. 


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associates (Read 1958). Other associates on the more productive sites include American elm, 
slippery elm, hackberry, boxelder, green ash, red mulberry, black walnut, American sycamore, 
eastern redcedar, and silver maple (Ware and Smith 1939, Albertson and Weaver 1945, Read 1958). 
Trees, shrubs, and vines associated with plains cottonwood are listed in Table Al. In cottonwood 
stands of the western plains, shrubs are largely replaced by graminoids and forbs (Albertson and 
Weaver 1945). Plains cottonwood communities contain a greater diversity of herbaceous plants 
because of the more open sites on which this species occurs. Common species include sand 
dropseed, buffalograss, sunflowers, lambs-quarters, and Russian thistle. A more complete listing of 
graminoid and forb associates is provided in Table A2. 

Northern Floodplain Forest: Kuchler (1975) mapped and defined the northern floodplain forest 
as occurring from Montana east to Minnesota, south to eastern Colorado and northern Oklahoma, 
and extending to southern Illinois and Missouri. This forest type (K098) occurs on the lower terraces 
and floodplains of the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte, Kansas, and Ohio Rivers. The northern 
floodplain forest is dominated by elm-ash-cottonwood species, which corresponds closely to the 
forest types SAF 63 (cottonwood), SAF 95 (black willow), and SAF 235 (cottonwood-willow and 
silver maple-American elm). In the K098 classification, the dominant tree species are eastern 
cottonwood, black willow, and American elm (Kuchler 1964). Other tree species present include 
boxelder, red maple, silver maple, river birch, hackberry, white ash, green ash, honey locust, black 
walnut, and sycamore in the south, plains cottonwood in the west, and peachleaf willow, sandbar 
willow, and slippery elm. Streamside stands in North Dakota include bur oak, American basswood, 
green ash, American elm, boxelder, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), and paper birch (Betula 
papyrifera ) (Wikum and Wali 1974). Typical vines in the northern floodplain forest are American 
bittersweet, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and bristly greenbrier (Smilax hispida) 
(Kuchler 1964). 

Nebraska Cottonwood Communities: The three main forest types (after Garrison etal. (1977)) 
of Nebraska are elm-ash-cottonwood, oak-hickory, and ponderosa pine. Bottomland hardwoods 
represent over 1 million acres, 58 percent of the total woodland acreage in Nebraska. These 
bottomlands fall within the range of the northern floodplain forest (K098). The willow-cottonwood 
portion of the floodplain forest is especially typical of the Platte and Missouri Rivers (Weaver 1968). 
It extends over low sandy banks, sandbars, and abandoned channels. The floodplain community 
reaches its best development along the larger streams in the southeastern part of Nebraska; the trees 
are much larger, and fewer of the less tolerant species are found because of the dense shade. 
Secondary species include white ash, chokecherry, Kentucky coffeetree, Ohio buckeye, hackberry, 
and American sycamore. Common shrubs of the floodplain forest that extend beyond its margin and 
intenningle with coarse grasses include roughleaf dogwood, Indigo bush, wolfberry, coralberry, 
smooth sumac, American plum, American elder, and wild gooseberry. 

SUCCESSION PATTERNS: Eastern cottonwood is shade intolerant (Dickmann and Stuart 1983). 
It is a pioneer species that typically establishes on the freshly exposed alluvium of sandbars, 
streambanks, and other floodplain sites (Bjugstad and Girard 1984, Bradley and Smith 1986, Hupp 
1992). Establishment and dominance may occur after sandbar willows have stabilized the site 
(Wilson 1970); willows have abundant fibrous roots that catch and retain the silts and clays carried 
by floodwaters (Weaver 1960). Succession is characterized by the growth of boxelder, American 
elm, slippery elm, green ash, and black walnut, which in turn may be replaced by basswood with the 


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elms remaining as co-dominants (Aikman 1927). In northern floodplain forests, willows are usually 
closest to the water’s edge, with cottonwoods, elms, boxelder, and ashes farther from the water 
(Weaver 1960). Successive community types in riparian areas along the Yellowstone River in 
Montana are bare sandbars, willow thickets, cottonwood forests, green ash forests, and grasslands 
(Boggs 1984). On the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota, cottonwoods occur in a series 
of even-aged stands corresponding to channel migration events (Everitt 1968). 

Plains cottonwood, willow, and boxelder represent an early succession stage on floodplains in 
Nebraska (Albertson and Weaver 1945). The plains cottonwood-willow type converts to the plains 
cottonwood-green ash type in North Dakota (Johnson et al. 1976) and succeeds to the green ash- 
western sno wherry community if left undisturbed (Girard et al. 1989). The number of associated tree 
species decreases westward until only the early successional species (namely cottonwood and 
willow) remain; in much of the western Great Plains the climax native bottomland community is 
now shrubland or grassland rather than forest (Hefley 1937, Lindauer 1983). 

Since the 1800s, fire suppression and decreased flow variability have allowed invasives such as 
Russian olive and trees from the eastern Plains, especially green ash and eastern redcedar, to become 
established in western bottomlands where shade-tolerant species were fonnerly absent (Olson and 
Knopf 1986, Johnson 1992, Shafroth et al. 1995). 

INVASIVE SPECIES: Both eastern and plains cottonwood communities include invasive species. 
These may be either introduced or native plants that grow abundantly, frequently on sites that have 
been altered. For example, Russian olive and saltcedar are introduced species that have invaded 
riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwoods and willows across the Great Plains and 
southwestern United States (Taylor 2001). Invasive species often do not provide the same functions 
as the native species although consequences of invasives are not always clear (Zouhar 2005). 
Introduced species are considered detrimental to native communities as they have displaced native 
vegetation, increased water demand, increased fire frequency, and allowed soil erosion at sites of 
invasion (Shafroth et al. 1995, Larmer 1998). Eradication, when possible, or some degree of control 
of invasive species is costly. Invasive species that may be found associated with cottonwoods in 
Nebraska and the Great Plains are indicated in Tables Al and A2. 

NATURAL REGENERATION AND RECRUITMENT 

Sexual Reproduction: Cottonwood species regenerate both sexually and vegetatively. 
Cottonwood is dioecious with a sex ratio of about 1 to 1 (Farmer 1964). According to geographic 
location, plants flower 1 to 2 weeks before leaf initiation (Braatne et al. 1996) in early to late spring 
(February through May) (Dickmann and Stuart 1983, Braatne et al. 1996). Flowering may vary by as 
much as a month among trees in a stand (Farmer 1966). 

Seed production and dispersal. Seeds develop in capsules with three to four valves on short stalks 
of long catkins. From 30 to 60 seeds are produced in each capsule. The minimum seed-bearing age 
of plains cottonwood is about 10 years (Schreiner 1974), whereas seed production of eastern 
cottonwood begins at 5 to 10 years and increases rapidly as trees age and enlarge in size (Cooper and 
Van Haverbeke 1990). At 10 to 15 years of age, trees annually produce large seed crops (25 to 
28 million seeds per tree per year) (Braatne et al. 1996). Estimates of annual seed production of a 
single open-grown tree have been as high as 48 million seeds (Bessey 1904). 


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Seed dispersal follows flowering by about 2 months in southern populations and by a shorter period 
in the North (Fanner 1966). Seed dispersal and germination occur in late spring to early- or mid¬ 
summer, typically coinciding with decreasing water flow levels (May through August) (Fanner and 
Bonner 1967, Braatne et al. 1996). The dispersal pattern results in abundant deposits of seeds along 
watercourses as spring floodwaters recede (Schreiner 1974). Seeds are dispersed by both water and 
wind. Seeds carried on the wind may land only several hundred feet away from the parent tree, 
whereas seeds falling into water may be carried long distances before deposition on sandbars and 
riverbanks. 

Germination and survival. There is no seed dormancy in eastern and plains cottonwoods (White 
1979). Seeds are highly viable at dispersal and remain viable for 1 to 2 weeks (Braatne et al. 1996). 
Seed viability for plains cottonwood has been reported at almost 100 percent during the first 5 days 
after dispersal if seeds are kept moist (Read 1958), but seeds lose viability rapidly in the absence of 
a suitable gennination site (Farmer and Bonner 1967). Germination occurs as soon as seeds are 
deposited on a suitable site (Read 1958, Bradley and Smith 1986, Segelquist et al. 1993). An ideal 
site for germination is the moist silt, sand, or gravel along river and stream floodplains that is 
exposed to full sunlight (DeBell 1990). After deposition on such a site, eastern cottonwood typically 
genninates within 8 to 24 hr (Moss 1938, Noble 1979), and plains cottonwood will germinate within 
48 hr (Engstrom 1948, Chong et al. 1988). The germination rate is high and has been kn own to 
exceed 90 percent for eastern cottonwood (Van Haverbeke 2002) and 98 percent for plains 
cottonwood (Schreiner 1974). Successful germination and good early growth of cottonwood are 
optimal within the temperature range of 27 to 32 °C (80.6 to 89.6 °F) and at < 5-atm moisture stress 
(Farmer and Bonner 1967). 

Suitable sites occur naturally as a result of disturbance, i.e., spring flooding (Read 1958). Receding 
floodwaters leave freshly deposited, exposed alluvium; seed germination along prairie river 
floodplains may occur exclusively on these alluvial sites (Wilson 1970, Johnson et al. 1976). Since 
young seedlings do not compete well in shade, exposed soil is essential (Putnam 1951, Johnson et al. 
1976), and moisture is critical during germination and seedling development (Cooper and Van 
Haverbeke 1990). 

The probability of an individual cottonwood establishing and growing to maturity is very low 
(Shafroth et al. 1995). With the brief period of viability, many sites are not suitable for germination; 
mortality is extremely high on sites that are not ideal, and substantial mortality occurs even among 
seedlings genninating on ideal sites. Therefore, the coincidence of seed viability, receding flood 
flows, and suitable sites is such that germination may occur only once every 2 to 10 years (Larson 
and Borman 2001). Along the Milk River, Alberta, conditions for recruitment leading up to long¬ 
term survival occur on an average of once in 5 years (Bradley and Smith 1986). 

The meandering nature of streams and rivers is important for the germination and survival of 
cottonwoods (Friedman et al. 1997). The sandbars created by erosion and subsequent deposition of 
eroded material provide seed beds with favorable germination conditions. Newly created point bars 
are bare and likely moist. As a meander continues to move with time, the sandbar becomes further 
removed from frequent flooding, thus enhancing seedling survival. Channel narrowing and flood 
deposition and erosion are also important hydrologic dynamics in germination and survival of 
seedlings. Channel narrowing typically occurs after one to several years when peak flows are lower 


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than normal, and the stream concentrates in one part of its normal bed. Thus the stream deepens the 
narrower bed, and cottonwood stands often establish on the benches left after narrowing. Flood 
deposition and erosion occur along most streams but are especially important for cottonwood 
establishment where lateral channel movement is constrained by a narrow valley (Scott et al. 1996). 
The channel is not moving, so the only locations safe from scouring are those at high elevations. 
Only the greatest flows produce bare, moist substrate at these high elevations. This dynamic may 
initiate channel narrowing in that an unusually large flood will enlarge the channel, then leave moist 
benches on which cottonwood can establish. 

Establishment. Growth of young seedlings is rapid (Kennedy 1985). Although initial stem 
development is slow, the growth rate rapidly accelerates after the first 3 weeks (Baker and Blackmon 
1977). Seedlings can extend taproots 30.5 to 40.6 cm (12 to 16 in.) and lateral roots 61 cm (24 in.) 
by the end of the first growing season (Ware and Penfound 1949). These roots serve as anchorage 
during floods and help to ensure a water supply during dry periods. Most of the roots are in the 
uppermost, aerated layer of soil and are nearer the surface in clay soils than in loams (Cooper and 
Van Haverbeke 1990). After siltation, roots develop on the covered portion of the stem. 

Young seedlings are susceptible to several adverse factors, including heavy rains, very hot sunshine, 
and damping-off fungi (Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Once established, eastern cottonwood 
seedlings may suffer damage from flooding. Hosner and Minckler (1963) found that 8 days of inun¬ 
dation weakened all seedlings, while 16 days resulted in mortality. However, seedlings can survive if 
flooded less than 50 percent of the growing season (Myers and Buchman 1984). Seedlings will 
establish near the edges of river channels, but long-tenn survival is greater at higher elevations 
above the stream channel (Friedman et al. 1997). 

Establishment of cottonwoods, especially on the Great Plains, is dependent upon moisture 
availability (Albertson and Weaver 1945, Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Seedling mortality is 
most often drought-induced, when root growth cannot keep up with the dropping water table (Rood 
et al. 2003). Cool, moist conditions in the first growing season enhance seedling survival, as do high 
flows in the fall, but scouring by winter ice flows is a threat to cottonwood seedlings. For successful 
establishment, the elevation of the seedbed must be high enough to avoid flash flows and ice 
scouring but low enough to avoid drought. 

Growth and development. Eastern cottonwood is the fastest growing native tree in North America 
(Dickmann and Stuart 1983, Kennedy 1985). It increases 1.7 to 2.54 cm (0.7 to 1 in.) in diameter and 
1.5 m (5 ft) in height annually up to 10 to 15 years of age and grows at only a slightly slower rate up 
to 30 to 35 years of age (Bull and Munz 1943). In the fertile Mississippi Valley, it can reach 36.6 m 
(120 ft) in height and 50.8 cm (20 in.) dbh by 35 years (Bull and Munz 1943, Ware and Penfound 
1949). Plains cottonwood is the fastest growing native species on the Great Plains; it grows most 
rapidly in the first 25 to 30 years when it can reach 15.2 m (50 to 75 ft) in height and 61 to 91.4 cm 
(24 to 36 in.) dbh (Geyer 1981). It usually attains maximum development in 40 to 50 years (Scott 
1928, Sudworth 1934). 

Both eastern and plains cottonwood are highly intolerant of shade and require full sunlight for 
maximum growth (Scott 1928, Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Eastern cottonwood is more 
intolerant of shade than any of its associates except willow. Although the two frequently seed in 
together, pure stands of one or the other are the general rule after the first few years. Willow 


12 



ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 

survives on the wetter sites, while cottonwood survives on the slightly higher, drier sites. Its faster 
growth allows cottonwood to crowd out the willow except on sites where prolonged deep flooding 
drowns the cottonwood component of the stand. 

Establishment and subsequent dominance of cottonwoods and willows under natural conditions 
require the following attributes: (a) large, dependable seed crops; (b) effective dispersion by wind 
and water to optimal gennination sites; (c) rapid gennination; (d) rapid root and shoot growth 
sufficient to withstand flooding, drought, and sedimentation; (e) tolerance of low soil fertility; and 
(f) the ability of cottonwoods and willows to reproduce vegetatively (Johnson 1994). These pioneer 
species modify the riverbed environment suitable for early successional species into relatively stable 
surfaces favorable for recruitment of later successional species. 

Vegetative Reproduction: Vegetative reproduction occurs by sprouting from stumps and root 
crowns, by the formation of adventitious shoots on the roots (suckers) (Schier and Campbell 1976, 
Dickmann and Stuart 1983), and by crown breakage and flood-trained shoots (sprouts from broken 
limbs covered by sediment) (Braatne et al. 1996). However, the ability to sprout declines with age 
(Read 1958). Although eastern cottonwood may sprout from the roots and bole after top-kill or 
damage, the response is weak. Most suckers arise from suppressed buds in the periderm of 
undisturbed roots after death or injury of aboveground parts (Gom and Rood 1999a). There is 
disagreement about the ability of eastern cottonwood to sprout from the bole after cutting (Minckler 
1958, Dickmann and Stuart 1983). Plains cottonwood does not readily fonn suckers or stem sprouts 
(Gom and Rood 1999b), and sprouting is uncommon except in flood-trained shoots (Bradley and 
Smith 1986, Gom and Rood 1999a, Scott et al. 1997). 

Disease Agents: Leaf rusts and stem ca nk ers are the most widespread and damaging diseases 
(Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990). Leaf rusts cause premature defoliation of trees that results in 
decreased growth, weakened trees, and increased susceptibility to infection by other pathogens. 
Melampsorea leaf rust, caused by Melampsora medusae, is a serious disease of plains cottonwood 
(Morris et al. 1975). Other rusts include Septoria ( Septoria musiva ) leaf spot, Marssonina brunnea 
leaf spot, and Altemaria (Alternaria tenuis) leaf and stem blight. The most serious canker is 
Cytospora ( Cytospora chrysosperma) canker, which can result in wind breakage at the wound site. 
Other canker diseases include those caused by Fusarium solani, Phomopsis macrospora, 
Botiyodiplodia theobromae, Crvptosphaeria populina, and Scytinostroma galactinium. 

Insects that are most damaging to plains cottonwood are the defoliators and woodborers (Stein 
1976). The defoliators cause loss of vigor, and wood borers reduce the quality of lumber. Some of 
the more important defoliators include the cottonwood leaf beetle ( Chrysomela scripta), cottonwood 
borer ( Plectrodera scalator ), flatheaded woodborer ( Dicera divaricata ), carpenterworm 
(Prionoxystus robiniae ), poplar-and-willow borer ( Cryptorhynchus lapathi ), and bronze poplar borer 
(Agrilus liragus). 

Human Impacts to Natural Regeneration: Regeneration and recruitment of plains cottonwood 
have been adversely affected by the construction of dams and reservoirs in the Great Plains region 
(Rood and Mahoney 1990). Dams installed to capture the peak flow of spring run-off for use in 
irrigation or power generation have altered water cycle patterns necessary for the natural regen¬ 
eration of cottonwood (Williams and Cooper 2005). Changes in flood magnitude and frequency, 
sedimentation rates, and rates of meander migration contribute to the reduction of suitable 


13 



ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 

recruitment sites (Johnson et al. 1976, Bradley and Smith 1986). The stabilization of flows created 
by dams alters the flow of sediment, thus resulting in a depletion of sites for cottonwood 
establishment (Bradley and Smith 1986). Plains cottonwood is adapted for recruitment in high- 
disturbance environments of meandering river floodplains, in particular on point bars that are 
flooded periodically and experience rapid sedimentation and lateral migration. Alterations to natural 
water flow reduce the ability of a river to change course, thus limiting its geographic spread and 
variation of substrates, which reduces the availability of suitable regeneration sites. 

Reduced flows can induce drought stress, which in turn leads to high mortality to seedlings and very 
old cottonwoods (Rood and Mahoney 1990, Scott et al. 2000). Channel incision associated with 
sustained flooding can lower channel elevations enough to cause significant stress and resulting 
stand mortality (Scott et al. 2000). An abrupt reduction in downstream flow is particularly stressful 
(Crouch 1979, Rood and Heinze-Milne 1989). Natural flow variations give cottonwoods an interval 
for hardening during which drought tolerance gradually increases, but an abrupt decrease of water 
eliminates this hardening interval. Artificial flow reductions may also cause the water table to fall 
more rapidly than normal. Extreme stress or mortality will result from these conditions if maximal 
root growth is inadequate to maintain contact with the falling water table. If seedlings have just 
established, the limited root systems may be unable to cope with the sudden change in water 
availability, and mortality will occur by desiccation. An abrupt water cutoff can be fatal to older, 
less vigorous trees that are already less drought resistant than middle-aged trees (Albertson and 
Weaver 1945). 

Land modifications impact cottonwood regeneration. Upstream clear-cutting or overgrazing can 
reduce the ability of the watershed to hold and slowly release water. As a result, seedlings may 
experience drought or may not be able to germinate because seedbeds have been covered with 
sediment that encourages growth of plant competitors. Groundwater pumping for agricultural, 
domestic, or industrial purposes can draw down the permanent water table to create an artificial 
drought, which may stunt or kill mature trees. Agricultural clearing and direct harvesting of trees 
also contribute to forest failure (Rood and Mahoney 1990). Livestock grazing has had extensive 
impacts on riparian areas in the western United States (Malanson 1993). Cottonwood seedlings are 
preferred forage for cattle, which also trample young plants. 

Invasive plants, especially introduced species such as Russian olive and saltcedar, compete suc¬ 
cessfully with plains cottonwood for establishment (Bradley and Smith 1986) (Ligure 4). Russian 
olive is a small tree native to western Asia (Little 1961) that was planted for windbreaks and wildlife 
habitat enhancement and has become extensively naturalized throughout the western United States 
(Christiansen 1963). Lesica and Miles (1999) investigated the invasion of Russian olive into 
cottonwood forests along the lower Marias River below Tiber Dam in Montana and found that it 
invades cottonwood stands of all ages. It forms an understory canopy beneath mature cottonwoods, 
its shade precluding cottonwood recruitment. Therefore, as old cottonwoods die, forests of Russian 
olive will replace the native riparian forests. Russian olive also competes well with plains cotton¬ 
wood because it is better adapted to establish under regulated stream flows (Shafroth et al. 1995). 


14 



ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 



Figure 4. Russian olive competes with cottonwoods for establishment 
along river banks. 


RESTORATION OF COTTONWOOD STANDS: Human impacts have profoundly interfered 
with the natural establishment and development of cottonwoods in river systems. The decline in 
cottonwood stands along altered rivers and streams has prompted a concerted effort to manage, 
conserve, and restore these communities. In the Lower Mississippi valley, bottomland hardwoods 
have been regenerated in small stands, and cottonwood has been successfully established in 
plantations to provide timber and wildlife habitat (Johnson 1965, Newling 1990). These efforts have 
involved manual manipulation of the habitat, either in site preparation or seeding/planting. 
Cottonwood has also been propagated vegetatively on sites in the Northern Plains for use in 
windbreaks and farmstead plantings (Morgenson 1992). 

Natural Seedfall: Ideally, a means to stimulate natural recovery is preferred for cottonwood 
restoration for both efficiency and probability of long-term success. However, most projects 
combine at least some habitat manipulation with natural regeneration. The establishment of plains 
cottonwood using both aspects has been demonstrated along Boulder Creek, a meandering stream in 
the Colorado plains that has been dammed and channelized (Friedman et al. 1995). The failure of 
natural cottonwood reproduction downstream of the dam resulted from the scarcity of bare, moist 
substrate suitable for seedling establishment. Successful regeneration sites were created by removing 
sod to lower the surface by an average depth of 16.5 cm (6.5 in.) and irrigating with stream water 
supplied by pumping through sprinklers. Natural seedfall provided the seeding mechanism, as seeds 
introduced by planting had no significant effect on increasing the rate of regeneration. Using natural 
seedfall also eliminated the collection and planting of propagules and helped retain the gene pool of 
the local cottonwood population. The disturbed, irrigated sites produced a cottonwood seedling 
density of 10.3 seedlings per square meter, whereas non-irrigated, undisturbed plots (similar to 
current conditions) had a mean density of only 0.03 seedling per square meter. 


15 






ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 

This method may be useful for regenerating cottonwood stands along regulated streams where 
channel migration and flood disturbance no longer occur (Friedman et al. 1995). To increase 
seedling yield and decrease cost, it is recommended that selected regeneration sites be high enough 
to avoid annual scour by water or ice and have grass cover, coarse soil texture, and low organic 
matter content to minimize herbaceous competition. If an upstream dam and reservoir allowed 
moderately high flows at designated times but residential and industrial development prevented the 
use of flows powerful enough to form new bare surfaces, several modifications would help to 
establish cottonwoods. For example, the site can be artificially disturbed with a backhoe or 
bulldozer, the area can be flooded before seed dispersal, and high flows destructive to young trees 
can be prevented during the next few years. Friedman et al. (1995) also provide suggestions for 
planting cottonwood stands in larger plots. This restoration technique may be suitable for the 
regeneration of other riparian pioneer species, such as willows, silver maple, and river birch, which 
produce dependable crops of immediately genninable seeds capable of establishing on a mineral 
substrate (White 1979). 

Cuttings: Cottonwood may be established by cuttings (Dickmann and Stuart 1983, Krinard 1983). 
The average length of cuttings in the Pacific Northwest and the southern United States is about 
50 cm (20 in.), while 20- to 30-cm (8- to 12-in.) cuttings are typical in the northern United States 
and Canada. Cuttings should be longer where upper soil moisture is limiting (Dickmann and Stuart 
1983). Cuttings of 2.4 m (8 ft) or more planted in l-m-(3-ft-) deep holes have advantages over 
standard 50-cm (20-in.) cuttings. These advantages include less intensive site preparation, a reduced 
need for browsing protection, and less intensive weed control (Krinard 1983). 

Planting: Whether planting trees by seeding or cuttings, use of native stock is highly recom¬ 
mended, because significant geographic variation exists in growth rate, drought resistance, wood 
characteristics, and sprouting ability (Cunningham 1975). Site preparation varies with climate and 
soil type (Lovett and Bolander 2006). Some form of weed control may be necessary. Tillage is not 
recommended on sandy soils, rough terrain, or any highly erodible soil. Chemical control can be 
applied to the site in the fall or early spring, and summer fallow is recommended in western 
Nebraska to conserve fall moisture. Fall tillage is recommended for grassland sites in eastern 
Nebraska; all sites should be disked before spring planting. Lovett and Bolander (2006) provide 
guidelines for site preparation, seedling care prior to planting, and planting techniques. 

Maintenance: The growth of young seedlings on good sites is rapid; therefore, restoration sites 
must be kept free of competing vegetation (Carter and White 1971, Kennedy 1985). Sites should be 
cultivated regularly until the trees are able to shade out most of the herbaceous vegetation (Lovett 
and Bolander 2006). Preemergent herbicides are effective for weed control, as these chemicals stay 
in the top 5 cm (2 in.) of soil out of the tree root zone but are readily absorbed by herbaceous roots. 
Use of the restoration area by wildlife and domestic livestock must be controlled (Dickmann and 
Stuart 1983). Fencing can be erected to protect seedlings and young trees. Repellents or poisons may 
be effective for controlling rabbits, mice, and moles if the restoration site is not too large. All losses 
should be replanted during the first and second years to avoid future wind tunnels. 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Many people contributed to the overall success of the production 
of the model documentation. The authors wish to thank the following people for their hard work and 
persistence during the intensive months over which the project was assessed: Renee’ Caruthers and 


16 



ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 

Jennifer Emerson (Bowhead, Inc.), Janean Shirley (Information Technology Laboratory), and 
Dr. David Price and Gayle Gettinger (Ecological Resources Branch). 

The profile was patterned after the many species profiles prepared under the Environmental Impact 
Research Program, http://el.erdc.usace.army.mil/elpubs/eirp.html . 

The document was reviewed by Lisa Rabbe, Kansas City District; and Amy Lee, Chester Martin, 
and Kelly Burks-Copes of the Ecological Resources Branch, ERDC EL. Photographs in Figures 1 
and 4 were taken by Dr. O’Neil and Figure 3 by Mike Watkins, Omaha District. 

This report was prepared under the general supervision of Dr. David Price, Acting Chief, Ecological 
Resources Branch, and Dr. David J. Tazik, Chief, Ecosystem Evaluation and Engineering Division, 
EL. At the time of publication of this report, Dr. Beth Fleming was Director of EL. This technical 
note should be cited as follows: 

Mitchell, W. A., J. O’Neil, and A. C. Webb. 2008. Cottonwoods of the Midwest: A 
community profile. EMRRP Technical Note ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09. Vicksburg, 

MS: U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. 

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20 






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NOTE: The contents of this technical note are not to be used for advertising, publication, or 
promotional purposes. Citation of trade names does not constitute an official endorsement or 

approval of the use of such products. 


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APPENDIX A: PLANTS ASSOCIATED WITH EASTERN AND PLAINS 
COTTONWOODS IN THE MIDWESTERN UNITED STATES 



Table A1 

Trees, Shrubs, and Vines Associated with Eastern and Plains Cottonwoods in 
Midwestern States (compiled from Albertson and Weaver 1945, Read 1958, Weaver 
1968, Eyre 1980, Cooper and Van Haverbeke 1990, Taylor 2001) 


Common Name 


Scientific Name 


Eastern 


Invasive 1 


Boxelder 

Acernegundo 

Red maple 

Acer rubrum 

Silver maple 

Acer saccharinum 

Ohio buckeye 

Aesculus glabra 

Tree-of-heaven 

AHanthus altissima 

Speckled alder 

Alnus rugosa 

Pawpaw 

Asimina triloba 

River birch 

Betula nigra 

American hornbeam 

Carpinus caroliniana 

Water hickory 

Carya aquatica 

Bitternut hickory 

Carya cordiformis 

Pignut hickory 

Carya glabra 

Pecan 

Carya illinoensis 

Shellbark hickory 

Carya lacinios 

Shagbark hickory 

Carya ovata 

Mockernut hickory 

Carya tomentosa 

Sugarberry 

Celtis laevigata 

Hackberry 

Celtis occidentalis 

Eastern redbud 

Cercis canadensis 

Dogwoods 

Cornus spp. 

Roughleaf dogwood 

Cornus drummondii 

Red-osier dogwood 

Cornus sericea 

Hawthorns 

Crataegus spp 

Common persimmon 

Diospyros virginiana 

Russian olive 

Elaeagnus angustifolia 

Eastern swampprivet 

Forestiera acuminata 

White ash 

Fraxinus americana 

Black ash 

Fraxinus nigra 

Green ash 

Fraxinus pennsylvanica 

Honey locust 

Gleditsia triacanthos 

Kentucky coffeetree 

Gymnocladus dioicus 

Black walnut 

Juglans nigra 

Rocky Mountain juniper 

Juniperus scopulorum 



(Sheet 1 of 4) 


1 Compiled from Stubbendieck, Friisoe, and Bolick 1994; Hoffman and Kearns 1997. 


































































































































ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
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Table A1 (Continued) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Trees (cont.) 

Eastern redcedar 

Juniperus virginiana 


X 


Sweetgum 

Liquidambar styraciflua 

X 



Chinaberry tree 

Melia azedarach 

X 



White mulberry 

Morns alba 

X 



Red mulberry 

Morns rubra 

X 

X 


Blackgum 

Nyssa sylvatica 

X 



Eastern hophornbeam 

Ostrya virginiana 

X 

X 


American sycamore 

Platanus occidentalis 

X 

X 


Narrowleaf cottonwood 

Poputus angustifolia 


X 


Black cottonwood 

Poputus balsamifera 

X 

X 


Eastern cottonwood 

Poputus deltoides 

X 

X 


Bigtooth aspen 

Poputus grandidentata 

X 



Plains cottonwood 

Poputus sargentii 


X 


American plum 

Prunus americana 


X 


Black cherry 

Prunus serotina 

X 

X 


Chokecherry 

Prunus virginiana 


X 

X 

White oak 

Quercus alba 

X 



Swamp white oak 

Quercus bicolor 

X 



Bur oak 

Quercus macrocarpa 

X 

X 


Chinkapin oak 

Quercus muehlenbergii 

X 

X 


Cherrybark oak 

Quercus pagoda 

X 



Pin oak 

Quercus palustris 

X 



Willow oak 

Quercus phettos 

X 



Chestnut oak 

Quercus prinus 

X 



Northern red oak 

Quercus rubra 

X 

X 


Shumard oak 

Quercus shumardii 

X 



Post oak 

Quercus stellata 

X 



Black oak 

Quercus velutina 

X 

X 


Peachleaf willow 

Salix amygdaloides 

X 

X 


Pussy willow 

Salix discolor 

X 



Sandbar willow 

Salix exigua 

X 

X 


River willow 

Salix fluviatilis 


X 


Black willow 

Salix nigra 

X 

X 


Red elderberry 

Sambucus racemosa 

X 



Sassafras 

Sassafras albidum 

X 



Fivestamen tamarisk 

Tamarix chinensis 


X 

X 

French tamarix 

Tamarix gallica 

X 


X 

Basswood 

Tilia americana 

X 

X 


(Sheet 2 of 4) 


27 




ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
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Table A1 (Continued) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Trees (cont.) 

American elm 

Ulmus americana 

X 

X 


Cedar elm 

Ulmus crassifolia 

X 



Slippery elm 

Ulmus rubra 

X 

X 


Rock elm 

Ulmus thomasii 


X 


Shrubs 

Rocky Mountain maple 

Acer glabrum 


X 


Saskatoon serviceberry 

Amelanchier alnifolia 


X 


Indigo bush 

Amorpha fruticosa 

X 

X 


Silversagebrush 

Artemisia c. carta 


X 


Sand sagebrush 

Artemisia filifolia 

X 


X 

Roughleaf dogwood 

Cornus drummondii 

X 



American hazel 

Corylus americana 


X 


Douglas hawthorn 

Crataegus douglasii 


X 


Burning bush 

Euonymous alata 

X 


X 

Eastern wahoo 

Euonymous atropurpureus 


X 


Northern spicebush 

Lindera benzoin 

X 



Black tupelo 

Nyssa sylvatica 

X 



Common ninebark 

Physocarpus opulifolius 

X 



American plum 

Prunus americana 

X 

X 


Shinnery oak 

Quercus havardii 

X 



Alderleaf buckthorn 

Rhamnus alnifolia 


X 


Smooth sumac 

Rhus glabra 

X 

X 

X 

Skunkbush sumac 

Rhus trilobata 


X 


American black currant 

Ribes americanum 


X 


Golden currant 

Ribes aureum 


X 


Wild gooseberry 

Ribes missouriense 

X 



Smooth rose 

Rosa blanda 


X 


Multiflora rose 

Rosa multiflora 

X 


X 

Wood's rose 

Rosa woodsii 


X 


Red raspberry 

Rubus idaeus 


X 


American elder 

Sambucus canadensis 

X 



Silver buffaloberry 

Shepherdia argentea 


X 


Western snowberry 

Symphoricarpos 

occidentalis 

X 

X 

X 

Coralberry 

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus 

X 



Arrowwood 

Viburnum dentatum 

X 



Blackhaw 

Virburnum prunifolium 

X 



(Sheet 3 of 4) 


28 




ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 


Table A1 (Concluded) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Vines 

Peppervine 

Ampelopsis arborea 

X 

X 


Hedge bindweed 

Calystegia sepium 


X 

X 

Trumpet creeper 

Campsis radicans 

X 



Asian bittersweet 

Celastrus orbiculatus 

X 


X 

Bittersweet 

Celastrus scandens 

X 

X 


Western white clematis 

Clematis ligusticifolia 


X 


Virgin's bower 

Clematis virginiana 

X 



Moonseed 

Menispermum canadense 

X 



Virginia creeper 

Parthenocissus quinquefolia 

X 

X 


Blackberry 

Rubus spp. 

X 



Greenbriers 

Smilax spp. 

X 



Blue Ridge carrion flower 

Smilax lasioneura 


X 


Poison ivy 

Toxicodendron radicans 

X 

X 


Western poison ivy 

Toxicodendron rydbergii 


X 

X 

Wild grapes 

Vitus spp. 

X 



Riverbank grape 

Vitus riparia 


X 


Frost grape 

Vitus vulpina 


X 


(Sheet 4 of 4) 


Table A2 

Herbaceous Species Associated with Eastern and Plains Cottonwoods in 
Midwestern States (compiled from Albertson and Weaver 1945; Read 1958; 

Weaver 1968; Eyre 1980; Cooperand Van Haverbeke 1990; Taylor2001) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Graminoids 

Creeping bentgrass 

Agrostis stolonifera 


X 

X 

Big bluestem 

Andropogon g. gerardii 

X 



Blue grama 

Bouteloua gracilis 


X 


Smooth brome 

Bromus inermis 


X 

X 

Japanese brome 

Bromus japonicus 

X 


X 

Cheatgrass 

Bromus tectorum 


X 

X 

Bufflalograss 

Buchloe dactyloides 


X 


Prairie sandreed 

Calamovilfa longifolia 


X 


Assiniboia sedge 

Carex assiniboinensis 


X 


Sedges 

Carex spp. 


X 


Sanddune sandbur 

Cenchrus tribuloides 

X 



(Sheet 1 of 3) 


29 





ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 


Table A2 (Continued) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Graminoids (cont.) 

Bermudagrass 

Cynodon dactylon 

X 



Barnyard grass 

Echinochloa crus-galli 


X 

X 

Canada wildrye 

Elymus canadensis 

X 

X 


Streambank wheatgrass 

Etymus 1. psammophilus 

X 



Slender wheatgrass 

Elymus trachycaulus 


X 


Hairy wildrye 

Elymus villosus 


X 


Virginia wildrye 

Elymus virginicus 


X 


Quackgrass 

Elytrigia repens 


X 

X 

Green muhly 

Muhlenbergia racemosa 


X 

X 

Switchgrass 

Panicum virgatum 

X 



Western wheatgrass 

Pascopyrum smithii 


X 


Timothy grass 

Phleum pratense 


X 


Common reed 

Phragmites australis 


X 


Kentucky bluegrass 

Poa pratensis 


X 

X 

Bulrush 

Scirpus spp. 


X 


Indiangrass 

Sorghastrum nutans 

X 



Johnsongrass 

Sorghum halepense 

X 


X 

Prairie cordgrass 

Spartina pectinata 


X 


Alkali sacaton 

Sporobolus airoides 

X 



Sand dropseed 

Sporobolus cryptandrus 


X 

X 

Eastern gamagrass 

Tripsacum dactyloides 

X 



Forbs 

Great ragweed 

Ambrosia trifida 

X 


X 

Wild sarsaparilla 

Aralia nudicaulis 


X 


Louisiana sagewort 

Artemisia ludoviciana 


X 

X 

Common milkweed 

Asclepias syriaca 


X 

X 

Smooth aster 

Aster laevis 


X 


American searocket 

Cakile edentula 

X 



Lambsquarters 

Chenopodium album 


X 

X 

Canada thistle 

Cirsium arvense 


X 

X 

Poison hemlock 

Conium maculatum 


X 

X 

Canadian horseweed 

Conyza canadensis 

X 


X 

Fireweed 

Epilobium angustifolium 


X 


Wild licorice 

Glycyrrhiza lepidota 


X 

X 

(Sheet 2 of 3) 


30 




ERDC TN-EMRRP-ER-09 
May 2008 


Table A2 (Concluded) 

Common Name 

Scientific Name 

Eastern 

Plains 

Invasive 

Forbs (cont.) 

Sunflowers 

Helianthus spp. 

X 

X 


Common sunflower 

Helianthus annuus 


X 

X 

Sawtooth sunflower 

Helianthus grosseserratus 


X 

X 

Jerusalem sunflower 

Helianthus tuberosus 


X 

X 

Common hop 

Humulus americanus 


X 


Starry Solomon's seal 

Maianthemum stellatum 


X 


White sweetclover 

Melilotus alba 

X 

X 


Yellow sweetclover 

Melilotus officinalis 


X 

X 

Wild mint 

Mentha canadensis 


X 


Heartleaf four o'clock 

Mirabilis nyctaginea 


X 

X 

American pokeweed 

Phytolacca americana 

X 


X 

Smooth Solomon's seal 

Polygonatum biflorum 


X 

X 

Swamp smartweed 

Polygonum amphibium 


X 

X 

Curly dock 

Rumex crispus 


X 

X 

Golden dock 

Rumex maritimus 


X 


Russian thistle 

Salsola pestifer 


X 


Prickly Russian thistle 

Salsola tragus 


X 

X 

Bur cucumber 

Sicyos angulatus 

X 


X 

Goldenrod 

Solidago spp. 

X 



Moist sowthistle 

Sonchus arvensis 
uliginosus 


X 

X 

White panicle aster 

Symphotrichum 

lanceolatum 


X 


Purple meadowrue 

Thalictrum dasycarpum 


X 


Veiny meadowrue 

Thalictrum venulosum 


X 


Colt's foot 

Tussilago farfara 

X 



California nettle 

Urtica dioica 


X 

X 

American vetch 

Vicia americana 


X 


Creeping violet 

Viola canadensis rugulosa 


X 


Common cocklebur 

Xanthium strumarium 

X 


X 

(Sheet 3 of 3) 


31