cottonwood_lanceleaf3.jpgAs we head into autumn, it seems a good time to take a look at the three native cottonwoods in our area – all of which can be easily found in the north part of Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs. Are you as surprised as I was to find out we have THREE native cottonwoods? Not until I started taking Colorado Native Plant Master courses did I find out we had two other cottonwoods in addition to the best known plains cottonwood. All three need a good deal of moisture and can often be found along streams and near springs. And all three produce seeds that are carried on “cotton” in the summer (on female trees).

Cottonwood #1: Plains Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
This is the classic cottonwood we all know. Its leaves are wide, with a nearly triangle shape.
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Cottonwood #2: Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Populus angustifolia)
This is the one that surprised me. For years, I had noticed trees in another park that had willow-like leaves but that turned a nice yellow in the fall. It turns out they are narrowleaf cottonwoods! The leaf is very similar to a willow leaf – long and narrow with serrated edges. This tree doesn’t grow as tall as the other two, and often forms shrubby thickets due to suckers growing from the roots.
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Cottonwood #3: Lanceleaf Cottonwood (Populus x acuminata)
This is a naturally occurring hybrid between the other two cottonwoods. Hence, it isn’t surprising that the leaves look like a cross of the other two. These trees can get as large and magnificent as the plains cottonwoods.
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