Common cottonwood

Populus deltoides Marshall

Life cycle

Fast-growing, weedy tree.

cottonwood tree
Common cottonwood tree.


Alternate, simple, broadly triangular, 3 to 5 inches long with coarse, incurved-toothed margins and a smooth base. Leaves are shiny green above and have two to five prominent, fingerlike glands where the long, flattened petiole attaches to the leaf. Margins are outlined by a colorless border.

cottonwood glands cottonwood seeds
Common cottonwood seedling (left). Common cottonwood leaf (right).


Up to 100 feet at maturity with a straight trunk and minimal branching. Bark is ash gray on mature trees and greenish yellow on young stems. Plants have the ability to form many vigorous, weedy sprouts.

Cottonwood seedling
Glands on upper leaf surface of common cottonwood.

Flowers and fruit

Male and female flowers are found on separate plants and are clustered in drooping, up to 4-inchlong spikes. Male flowers are reddish; female flowers are greenish. Fruit are three- to four-valved capsules that release cottony, wind-disseminated seeds.

cottonwood leaf
Mass of common cottonwood seeds.



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The MSU IPM Program maintains this site as an access point to pest management information at MSU. The IPM Program is administered within the Department of Entomology, fueled by research from the AgBioResearch, delivered to citizens through MSU Extension, and proud to be a part of Project GREEEN.