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about cottonwood trees

 
paul wheaton
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I wish to dedicate this thread to information about cottonwood trees.

And to start it off, I hereby present a brand new video featuring the mighty skeeter, talking about the amazing cottonwood tree:




 
Chuck Freeman
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Location: Southcentral Alaska
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I can't do to much so I don't know what is on it  but here is my 2 cents. The buds can be use to make Balm of Gilead, a great skin salve. They can also be used in making a food lure for beaver. They grow fast so the are a good first growth after a wildfire. The down side is they can become almost invasive and choke other young trees out. They make a mediocre firewood and are not suitable for building. However if you need logs to build a septic system they work great. Cottonwood logs don't rot when they are buried I've dug up  cribs that were 20 to 30 years old and still had good cottonwood logs.
 
tel jetson
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I was going to say that cottonwood rots quickly, which would be at odds with Chuck's statement.  maybe we're thinking of different trees.  around here, "cottonwood" refers to black cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa, which may or may not actually qualify as a cottonwood.  ask your local botanist.  that is the cottonwood Skeeter was talking about, though.

also absorbs a large amount of water.  that would seem to recommend it for hugel beds.

contains a large amount of rooting hormone, just like willows, so it would be useful for plant propagation.  also like willows, leaf buds contain salicin.  plenty of medicinal uses that stem from that and other properties.

I would think the "cotton" seed fluff would make a decent pillow stuffing, or maybe insulation if an efficient way of gathering it was found.

the wood is relatively soft, but the bark on old trees is pretty ridiculously hard.  no uses for hard bark are coming immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are some.
 
Chuck Freeman
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tel wrote:
I was going to say that cottonwood rots quickly, which would be at odds with Chuck's statement.  maybe we're thinking of different trees.  


No same tree above they do rot fast but bury one and they last forever. I don't know for a fact but I would almost bet they will last for years under water.
 
tel jetson
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weird.
 
Chuck Freeman
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tel wrote:
weird.


Maybe not, they do sprout very easily could the sprouting hormones trying to do their thing.
 
paul wheaton
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Chuck wrote:
No same tree above they do rot fast but bury one and they last forever. I don't know for a fact but I would almost bet they will last for years under water.


Actually, given the right conditions virtually any tree/log can be preserved under water or in peat bogs for centuries. I can not locate the links I'm thinking of, but below are a couple others.

Old, ancient even, logs are harvested in a few places and used for building exotic (expensive) furniture and sculptures.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100405103837.htm

http://www.thekennygallery.ie/art/bogwood.shtml

 
Seth Pogue
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Smear a little EM-1 and mycoryza on  that cottonwwod before you bury it and it will break down just fine, perhaps faster than most trees because of its low density.

EM-1: http://shopping.netsuite.com/s.nl/c.471963/sc.2/category.5/.f
 
Emerson White
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I've never spent time around them elsewhere, but here in Alaska it is common for cottonwoods to become infested with a number of insect pests and a large tree can make a 1/4 acre area sticky to the point where it is unusable, nothing can be applied topically to the trees (obviously size comes into play there) and really its very unpleasant to be under or near them in spring when the leaf buds break and drop their stick covers, or in summer when honeydue is coming down.
 
Seth Pogue
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OpCN-

I was addressing the subject of using dead trees for Hugulkultur.

Seth
 
Emerson White
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Soundcard is out, didn't watch the video. Sorry to be off topic.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Weak seeds grow on moist bare sediment.
Stem cuttings can be stuck and will grow.
Plantations are often grown using short cuttings (8-12 inches) stuck.
They stump sprout aggressively - very fast growing for biomass production.
Buds are best taking in late winter when they are plump and sticky, process through an oil infusion.

What about mushroom use?
 
Seth Pogue
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Pleurotus ostreatus (Pearl Oyster) plugs do great in Cottonwood.


http://www.fungi.com/plugs/plugs.html

I intend to start some shittake in Cottonwood this season too; hope to post results here in a year or two.
 
Charles Kelm
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I'd say about 15-20% of my 5 acres are cottonwoods.  I was thinking about cutting them all down and filling the void with good edible and useful trees and shrubs.  Anybody want to talk me out of it?  What is a good use for the wood once I cut them down, or should I just leave the trees where they fall in order to rot naturally and contribute to the forest?
 
tel jetson
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PermForLife wrote:
I'd say about 15-20% of my 5 acres are cottonwoods.  I was thinking about cutting them all down and filling the void with good edible and useful trees and shrubs.  Anybody want to talk me out of it?  What is a good use for the wood once I cut them down, or should I just leave the trees where they fall in order to rot naturally and contribute to the forest?


they're champion suckerers (let's get that word in the Webster's, asap).  cut down cottonwoods and you'll end up with a bunch more cottonwoods unless you're very fastidious about removing those suckers.  my advice is to use that trait to your advantage.

cottonwood is useful stuff.  hugelkultur has recently been gaining popularity, especially among this crowd, and cottonwood works well in that application.  might have to let it rot for a year before you bury it, though, or it'll just sprout more cottonwood.

because of the suckering, it'll make an awful lot of biomass continually, without much additional effort.  managing your cottonwoods as coppice seems like a good idea.  maybe you'll decide to remove some or most of them permanently, but don't get rid of them all.
 
Charles Kelm
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Thanks for your reply.  Maybe I should cut some of them to let them age, and then use those for hugelkulture.  I plan to get rid of the stumps on at least some of them.
 
                    
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A note on stumps. If the plan includes getting rid of stumps, IF the proper heavy equipment is available, it is easier to push the tree over than to cut it down and then try to remove the stump. But you do need something like a big skid steer or bulldozer.

 
Brice Moss
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my family in Michigan  prefers the cottonwood for spring and fall firewood saving the denser stuff for colder weather, we found that if you take a hatchet out in springtime ad girdle a tree about 2" deep all theway around the trunk then by time the first snow lets us use the wood sled its dry enough to use as firewood and its a lot easier to pull that sled than it is when you stack it full of green poplar
 
tel jetson
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just came across the idea of using bark for shingles.  not a new idea, just new to me.  American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was the bark of choice before the blight, but tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) has recently been gaining popularity for this purpose.  I imagine that cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) would work as well or better.
 
Brenda Groth
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in my experience it is better to NOT cut them if they are green and growing, if you are attempting to clear the land..cause the following spring you will have about a thousand baby trees clogging your woods.

the BEST way to remove any members of the aspen family is to allow them to die naturally and then take them down, then they are large enough for firewood, and the roots and stumps are not as likely to send up suckers..

they make fantastic nurse woods for starting a hardwood forest..and if you have a stand of the aspen family, you can throw in nuts, and seeds, or put in seedlings, of your hardwood or evergreens that you prefer in your forest, and as the hardwoods and evergreens begin to grow the aspen trees will die off..leaving the lovely forest duff behind for your new hardwood forest..

as they rot very quickly on top of the ground when they die, you can nearly plant right in them ..and they fall easily , sometimes jacknifiing with the tops coming down leaving the trunks standing..sometimes you can leave those trunks for critters for a good long while..or overplant them with vines..but eventually they will fall down
 
Dave Miller
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PermForLife wrote:
I'd say about 15-20% of my 5 acres are cottonwoods.  I was thinking about cutting them all down and filling the void with good edible and useful trees and shrubs.  Anybody want to talk me out of it?  What is a good use for the wood once I cut them down, or should I just leave the trees where they fall in order to rot naturally and contribute to the forest?

If they are big, I would just girdle them and leave standing snags.  They make fantastic habitat for cavity-nesting birds and other creatures.  You can plant underneath at the same time you girdle them.  At the wildlife refuge where I volunteer, a bunch of the cottonwoods were girdled by beavers and there is a big flock of purple martins nesting in them now (in cavities).
 
solomon martin
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Cotton wood is no good for building because it has a tendency to absorb and aspirate water, which makes it warp and twist.  It is surprisingly strong for its weight however, which makes it ideal for scaffolding planks and walking sticks.  It also has a tendency to pulp rather than splinter, which makes it an ideal surface for wood working and shop benches.  Saplings and branches are really flexible, great for bending frames for sweat lodges or similar structures.  The cotton fluff makes good stuffing or insulation, the easiest way to harvest it is to wait for a breezy day in early summer when the air is full of it, it falls to the ground and rolls itself up into drifts about 6 inches high, look for it against fallen logs, creek banks and street curbs.  In a blizzard, you can feed the inner bark to horses, the outer bark is popular amongst wood carvers.  I like to use rotten cotton wood to smoke salmon with, if I can't find Alder.  The leaves make a good garden bed topping in the fall: after they get wet and slimy you can lay them over the dirt kind of like paper mache. The red sap is really sticky, I wonder if you could wild-craft glue out of it?  What else can I say, Cottonwood is awesome!
 
Pat Black
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Cottonwood is the preferred wood for firing micaceous pottery in northern New Mexico, USA, because it burns quickly. Cottonwood roots are used for doll making. It is easy to carve.
 
                  
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How do you sex cottonwood cuttings? I understand males do not produce "cotton". Is "cotton " the bloom? I want to make sure I get blooms.
 
            
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I make my bowdrill sets from cottonwood,and the innerbark of the cottonwood makes good tinder bundles
 
Philip Freddolino
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Because the wood pulps instead of splinters, it is great for trailer decking and inside livestock barns/pens. It is usually milled wet and fastened down right away before it starts to dry , shrink , and move around.
 
                              
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Our land is almost completely dense forest with mixed hardwoods as well as hemlock and white pine. We have a number of massive eastern cottonwoods that are nearing the end of their time amongst the living. Our land is wet so it is common for them to fall over in a strong storm. When this happens, I mill the trunks with my Alaskan chainsaw mill and use the boards for building projects. I use the the wood green and have had no major problems with this. The wood is at least as strong as the white pine we are using and the warping is greatly reduced by the fact that it is all tied in place as part of the structure. One thing I really like about the lumber is that it doesn't seem to check much at all as it is drying. I use the branches as mulch or firewood, depending on the size.

I have noticed that in our forest, cottonwood seedlings don't do well in the understory. As was mentioned earlier, the cottonwood is a pioneer species and when they establish a forest, they create a perfect situation for other secondary species to grow. We have maple, beech, sweet birch, ash and oak taking the place of the cottonwoods.

I like the idea of cottonwood as a workbench! I am about to build one.

One thing I have noticed is that although cottonwood is not particularly dense, it is pretty tough to mill. I would say it takes three times as long to get through as an equal sized white pine or even hemlock log. I believe this to be related to pockets of compression wood that expand when cut and create friction in the cut as apposed to harder wood that simply chips out when cut.

It doesn't smell great when it is first cut but gets better as it dries out.
 
R.D. O'Brien
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I read that Eastern Cottonwood doesn't sucker when you cut it down. This is a fast growing tree that gets HUGE and grow just about anywhere. Sounds like it would be a good coppicing tree -- probably not for firewood, but for mulch, garden trellis and structures, etc.
 
Lance Kleckner
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I've seen some cottonwoods bulldozed into a ditch and had some roots suckering up and growing, not the same as cutting it down, but still possible in certain situations.
 
Luke Townsley
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Given it's similarities (noted above) with willow, I wonder if leaves/branches could be fed to goats, rabbits, and other livestock? Heaven knows it grows like crazy here in southern Indiana.

Also, I understand it was the tree local Indians used for dugout canoes. I've never seen a replica, but suspect building one would be very instructional in the nature of the wood.

Another thing I've noticed is that it tends to be very sponge like holding and absorbing water.

When burned at lower temps, it has a really acrid smoke.
 
Lance Kleckner
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Of course, animals love eating the leaves, .... and the bark too.
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