Nebraska State Tree

Nebraska State Tree

Eastern Cottonwood  

Nebraska’s state tree is the Eastern Cottonwood(Populus deltoides). It Nebraska State Tree Cottonwoodwas officially designated  in 1972 by the legislature as the state tree, replacing the American elm from 1937. The cottonwood was chosen because many elm trees were killed by disease, and the tree is very much rooted in Nebraska’s pioneer history.

The most recognizable part of the cottonwood are the clumps of cotton-type seed fluff  that bloom in the springtime before they begin to drift in the air and stick on things like window screens to cars and driveways.  This can be somewhat annoying to get off a Nebraskan’s porch screens but the cottonwood has played a big role in Nebraska’s history.

Native Americans utilized all parts of the tree to make various things from dugout canoes to a medicinal herbal tea. Cottonwood trees were sacred objects for several Native American Plains tribes. The cottonwood tree is linked with pioneer Nebraska because shoots were gathered and planted on homestead claims, and several famous early landmarks and meeting points were cottonwood trees.

The cottonwood is a massive tree, reaching heights of 100 feet or more and can provide wonderful shade of an area of 75 feet or more. The diameter of the trunk averages about 6 feet at maturity. 

The cottonwood is easily planted and one of the fastest to grow. Although they only live to about 70 years old.   

The cottonwood tree supplies most of the lumber in Nebraska presently. The tree has soft wood that it is used in making plywood, matches, ice cream sticks, and paper pulp.

Leaf

Alternate, simple, dominant center vein, 3 to 6 inches long, triangular (deltoid) in shape with a crenate/serrate margin. The leafstalk is flattened and glands are present at the top of the leafstalk.

Flower

Dioecious, male and female as pendulous catkins, appearing before the
leaves.

Fruit

Cottony seeds, 1/4 inch long borne in a dehiscent capsule. Maturing
over summer.

Twig

Stout, somewhat angled and yellowish. Buds are 3/4 inch long, covered
with several brown, tarry scales. Has a bitter aspirin taste.

Bark

Smooth, gray to yellow-green when young. Later turning gray with thick ridges and deep furrows.

Form

A large tree with a clear bole (trunk) and an open spreading crown resulting in a somewhat vase-shaped form.

Copyright 2019 Virginia Tech Dept. of Forest Resources and Environmental
Conservation; Text by: John Seiler, Edward Jensen,
Alex Niemiera, and John Peterson;Silvics reprinted from Ag
Handbook 654; range map source information