God bless that lovely cottonwood

Presuming that is the tree I so admired driving across Illinois in May, I have to say the hills full of that white blossom made an awesome sight. There is a home toward Warren where they are equally memorable, masquerading under the alias as the poplar tree. It can also be called the whitewood.

Beautiful indeed – at a distance.

I added the “God bless” to my title as in “gesundheit.” Allergy-free until last June, I am no longer a bit keen on this tree. Its whiteness covers my lawn and specks of it continued to float through the air for the entire month.

Initially unaware of what it was doing to me, I happily spent three hours weeding on one of the few sunny and warm days we had then, enjoying my time as I admired – and wrote about – the singing catbird. Happy day – but oh! did I pay for it later.

And I don’t even know where it is. I have a fringe tree and that I guess could cause reactions (I suppose anything can) though its flowers are larger and what I see every time I leave the house is the flower (Audubon prefers “catkins”) of that cottonwood.

Opening my favorite “How To Recognize Trees” (as if there could be any doubt), I find

a cottonwood leaf lovingly pressed in the appropriate page. I do know a tree from, say, a rosebush but admit I am pretty poor on arboreal identification, to this day flunking even the various pines in my yard. And perhaps I wouldn’t even recognize the cottonwood if it ever discards all those noisome blossoms.

I am rather happy to read it is considered short-lived and one that can easily be damaged by high winds. (Come on and BLOW!)

Occasionally planted as a shade or ornamental tree (we’ll talk about that larch again some time), it will reward your efforts by seeking the closest drains or sewers. Preferring obviously to keep its little roots wet, it will – if it feels it necessary – thrive on dry soil. The book says “rather dry.” We shall see.

It produces a hardwood that is light, soft and weak. For this reason it is used mostly for plywood, match sticks, boxes and crates, tubs and pails, wood pulp but then my book adds furniture. Hmmm. Take a good look next time you buy berries or other fruit in one of those little woven wooden baskets. Guess what?

Having to make up for its shortened lifespan, this tree grow at a propitious rate. It can shoot up thirteen feet in its first year (weed it fast or else!) and averages a good five feet after that, easily reaching a hundred feet before it succumbs. Look for a tree very forked with a crown of spreading branches, the lower ones drooping (as if to cover its shame).

The name obviously comes from the bane of my existence (at least in 2013 and I’m hoping once is enough), those “abundant cottony seeds” though some may know it as the “Necklace Poplar” for the same reason.

Company due so, of necessity, I wrap a dampened dishtowel around my nose and mouth – looking like a kitcheny bandit – and do get the front porch swept clear.

I really do not need snow in June.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for over twenty years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts due this month. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at