Gardeners and conservationists say put the right plant in the right place. There are few trees to which this applies with more wisdom than the black cottonwood tree.
Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa – closely related the aspen, Populus tremuloides) gets a bad rap because mature trees can drop branches and cottony seed-fluff, and, as befits a riparian tree, it has a dense and energetic root system. These traits make cottonwoods a generally poor choice for many in-town properties, but there is many a good place for a cottonwood. After all, it’s fast-growing, hardy, survives inundation, provides shade (Oregon Trail pioneers prized it as one of the only sources for shade across the desert inland West), has handsome bright yellow autumn foliage, and in the form of leaves, duff – nature’s compost.
Where would these traits be at home? Along stream- and pond-edges, where they’re found in the wild, for one thing. Cottonwoods provide shade for water, hold banks in place, and host wildlife. If you drive the Gorge this time of year, you’re likely to see bald eagles perched high in the cottonwoods. An ecologist would suggest that, around here, a stream without cottonwoods isn’t fully functional.
Other places to consider planting cottonwoods might be along fence-rows or property lines, where there is a little water or irrigation seepage, where they can give shade, privacy and act as a wind-break. A field edge might be appropriate – cottonwoods need light – where they could buffer wind and reduce erosion.
Yes, every plant has its place, even the humble black cottonwood.
Think you have a good place for some cottonwood? Head out to Rheingarten Park on Saturday, April 13 to celebrate Arbor Day with the City of White Salmon, and pick up some cottonwood or a variety of other native trees and shrubs. Underwood Conservation District will be hosting its annual native plant sale and TreeFest event, and the city will be offering free mulch for residents’ gardens. Ordering larger quantities? Online Native Plant Sale orders are currently being accepted through March 31 on the UCD website (www.ucd
wa.org/shop); for questions, call the conservation district office at 509-493-1936.