Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cotton Trees

This is my monthly tree-following report.  June was all about cotton, specifically the cotton attached to seeds of cottonwoods -- or “cotton trees” as they used to be called, back in the old days.
Cottonwood cotton is a collection of fine hairs that help seeds fly with the wind and float down the river.  This is good for seed dispersal but can cause problems for humans.  At peak season female trees produce masses of fluff, which Russians call “pukh”.  Pukh reaches hazardous proportions in Moscow every summer; some blame Krushchev, others Lenin (read more here and here).  In any case, landscapers now know better than to plant female trees in town.

By June 22, many of the lanceleaf cottonwoods along the Laramie River were releasing seeds, but not mine.  I wasn’t surprised.  After all, she was a late bloomer back in May.
Looking up at the cottony canopy of a cottonwood tree (not mine); click on image to view.
Female catkin with seeds ready to fly.
You may remember from my mid-May report that the flooded river submerged benches and left my tree stranded on an island.  The water started dropping in mid-June.  Soon my tree was accessible, but with all the mud and debris and decaying matter, the area was a bit stinky.  And mosquitos were out in force.  June visits were short.
My cottonwood on left; Rich's bench on right (it was completely underwater a month ago).
Mud records those who passed:  birds, raccoons, dogs, people and bicycles.
I took female catkins of various ages back to the house for portraits.
Plump capsules filled with seeds and cotton.
Several capsules starting to dehisce (botany-speak for "split open").
Cottonwood seeds are tiny, dwarfed by the cotton.  They're made to travel.
Cottonwood cotton is often blamed for hay fever, but it's not allergenic.  It may snag and carry along whatever pollen is floating in the air however.

On June 29, I walked to the river early in the morning, while the mosquitos were still asleep.  I found the path littered with female catkins.  There were patches of pukh scattered about, though nothing like the fluff that plagues Moscow.
Female catkins on path, with pukh accumulations along right edge.
Wild Alyssum covered in pukh ... and it’s not even her own!
I crossed the footbridge and visited my tree -- she was casting seeds to the wind.
I watched them fly off, covered in cotton and filled with a plant’s form of hope.
I took many many many photos before I finally caught some seeds flying away.  Then I discovered that making a movie of them was a whole lot easier!

video

Tree-following is kindly hosted by Lucy Corrander of Loose and Leafy.

19 comments:

  1. As I remember Populus (topol) growing on the Moscow streets was extensively pruned and floating "Pukh " was not such a big problem

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    1. That's interesting -- one of the articles I read (links near top of this post) said the city didn't have enough money to prune. Literary license perhaps ;-)

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    2. Lovely to see your cottonwood in July, with its seed dispersal ... I was particularly intrigued by the river dispersal aspect.

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    3. Thank you, Caroline. I have learned so much of interest about these trees -- once again, thanks to Lucy! I'm hoping I will see some seedlings somewhere.

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  2. What a great tree, the seeds are so pretty and a really interesting post - thanks

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  3. A really interesting post. I know nothing about the Cotton tree it is beautiful. You' d think you could do something with the cotton; stuff cushions or something.

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  4. Thanks, Papaver and chloris. I have to say, I admire and am fascinated by this tree so much more now that I've been "following" it, paying close attention, learning. Hooray for tree-following (and Lucy of course)!

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  5. fascinating, I'd never paid this close attention to the details, thanks so much for sharing all the pictures and the movie!

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    1. Hi elena -- thanks for visiting. It's so nice that Lucy has led us into this tree-following. I've learned so much of interest about this tree that used to be just part of the scenery.

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  6. A great post, as always, Hollis. That bench looks like such a tranquil place to sit. It's amazing to think it was underwater recently.

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    1. Thanks, Tim. You're absolutely right -- that bench is a wonderful place to sit in the early mornings and evenings, I'm lucky to have it so close.

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  7. Hollis I really enjoyed seeing the cottonwood up close! We have them around and I see the cottony seed but not how it comes out. Great info

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    1. Thanks, Donna. It's neat to watch the cottonwood's year in such detail -- and to follow the lives of others' trees. I'm grateful to Lucy for setting us off on this adventure.

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  8. The re-emergence of the bench gives an even more startling impression of the depth of the flood than your photo of the area when more water was there.

    The seeds are wonderful as they fly at the camera. It managed to capture them in focus which is pretty impressive. Glad you are enjoying following your tree.

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    1. and now the river is quite low, with gravel bars appearing above the water. This is just as much a river-following endeavor ...

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  9. What a fascinating tree - and the links to the "pukh" stories.
    The fluff reminds me of the scene in Northern cotton mills in the old days (as portrayed in TV dramas).
    Keep up the good work :)

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    1. Thanks, squirrelbasket. I'm definitely hooked on this tree-following, and am curious as to what the coming months will bring in the way of news. We'll see ...

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  10. Hollis, what an interesting tree to follow, I've not seen anything like it, we have cotton grass with white fluffy seedheads, I like the second photo showing the open seedhead, gosh that was a deep flood looking at that seat, footprints in mud, sand or snow are always interesting seeing who's passed by, Frances

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    1. Thank you, Frances. I think cotton grass is beautiful! I've only seen it a few times -- it's not common here, grows at higher elevations. I wonder if ours is the same species as yours

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