What do you think of when you think of summer in Cherry Hills? For me, one of the surest signs of summer in the village is when the cottonwoods leaf out. Those giant, heavy branches covered in thick bark suddenly are covered in a mantle of vibrant green that provides wonderful shade all summer long. The cottonwoods in the Village are all most likely Plains Cottonwoods, the species of cottonwood found all across the Great Plains right up into the foothills of the Rockies. These native giants are found along waterways all over the village, providing a green canopy most notable along the Highline Canal. Have you gone for a walk on the Highline recently and noticed how big some of the cottonwoods are? These trees are thought to get to be about six feet across [in trunk diameter]! Even though they get pretty big, cottonwoods don’t live very long (for a tree). They rarely live far past 100, although there are records of some living over 200 years. The ‘cotton’ that they spread every June is actually how the tree spreads its seeds, kind of like how dandelions turn white and puffy. Cottonwoods are a key habitat food source for plains animals in the winter, who eat the bark when they can’t reach grass under the snow. Here in the village, cottonwoods are home to many birds like our local great-horned owls. Do you have any cottonwoods on your street?
Some interesting cottonwood facts:
- The largest Plains Cottonwood used to be just North of Boulder and was 36 feet around!
- Cottonwoods used to be rare. Until people dammed and controlled seasonal flooding along rivers like the South Platte, cottonwoods were unable to grow because they would get washed out during spring runoff or run out of water in late summer
- Only female trees produce the ‘cotton’ seeds that make your dad sneeze every June
- Scientists think that red squirrels found their way West by following “cottonwood corridors” of trees across the plains
- The Plains Cottonwood’s cousin, the Narrowleaf Cottonwood, is found along streams at higher elevations, so if you see a cottonwood in the mountains it’s probably a narrowleaf
- The Plains Cottonwood is the state tree of Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska
For more information, check out these links: