Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Cottonwood - Populus deltoides   Bartram ex Marshall
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Section 6 » Order Salicales » Family Salicaceae
AuthorBartram ex Marshall
DistributionA very patchy and odd distribution. Found over much or most of the Piedmont, but primarily in the southern third of the province. In the Coastal Plain, it is limited essentially to brownwater river floodplains, especially the Roanoke and Cape Fear; thus found mainly near the VA line (Roanoke River), and again in the southwestern portion (Cape Fear River), but scarce along the Neuse and Tar river floodplains. Also present in part of the mountains, but not widespread there; many records may refer to escaped individuals.

The species occurs in essentially all 50 states, including most of the Canadian provinces. It is scarce in many South Atlantic states, especially from NC to FL.
AbundanceFairly common only in parts of the southern Piedmont, along the upper Roanoke River floodplain (Halifax and Northampton counties), and much of the Cape Fear River floodplain from Harnett south to Brunswick counties. Uncommon along the French Broad River floodplain. Elsewhere generally rare, often being adventive or escaped; may grow in ruderal habitats.
HabitatThis species occurs in the state in rich soil of floodplains, mainly in brownwater river floodplains (e.g., French Broad, Catawba, Yadkin—Pee Dee, Roanoke, and Cape Fear). It does occur in rich soil elsewhere, including waste lots, thickets, etc., but it may be considered as ruderal at many such sites. It typically is found on riverbanks and on natural levees, more so than farther back from the rivers in the floodplains.
See also Habitat Account for General Cottonwood Forests
PhenologyBlooms and fruits in March and April. The cotton-like or feather-like fruits are often seen drifting across the floodplains in the spring.
IdentificationThis is a medium to often tall deciduous tree, growing to 90-100’ or more, being more a tree of medium-aged forests than mature/climax bottomland stands. It has distinctive triangular leaves, with a strongly acuminate tip, and the base is rather truncate (cut straight across to the petiole). These leaves average 3-4” long and wide. The petioles are distinctly flattened, easily noted when rotated in your hand. This is an important character, as the similar Swamp Cottonwood (P. heterophylla), which may grow in the same stands with Eastern Cottonwood, has rounded (terete) petioles, and the leaves are wider (and often larger) and taper gradually to the tip.
Taxonomic CommentsAs expected for a very wide-ranging species, there are several named subspecies/varieties; the nominate subspecies – P. deltoides ssp. deltoides – is the one found in NC.

Other Common Name(s)Necklace Poplar
State RankS4 [S4S5]
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieNorth side Deep River, east of Glendon Road. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieNorth side Deep River, east of Glendon Road. MoorePhoto_natural
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