Presque Isle's cottonwood tree fuzz: A late spring snowfall lookalike

·3 min read

If you walked on Presque Isle State Park in late May up through early June, what you saw was not snow. Nor was it cotton balls falling from the sky. It was our own special warm-weather snow, the cottonwood tree's fuzz, or seed pods, carried on the wind. The trees each produce thousands of drifting pods.

This "summer snow" dissipated quickly with changes in the weather. You must have noticed the fuzz disappears when rain falls, and the wind blows. Just like the snow in winter, it can take some time until there is little or no sign of it. This fuzzy stuff you saw on the ground and filling the air usually lasts just three or four weeks.

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On Presque Isle, it is estimated that 40% of all the trees are eastern cottonwood. Some call what they produce poplar tree fuzz, and they are somewhat correct. The cottonwood is the kissing cousin in the poplar family of trees. Did you know that it is one of the most popular tree species in the world? It goes by the name of Populus Deltoides, and it grows in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Botanically speaking, cottonwood is a type of poplar tree. It belongs to the broad genus of Populus, which translates to the common name, poplar.

A woman asked me why so many of these trees grow on Presque Isle. This is because they require good sunlight and lots of water — most cottonwood trees grow in wet areas near rivers, lakes, marshlands and streams. Presque Isle and the Great Lakes are natural homes for these trees.

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Because this tree has adapted to thrive in most floodplains, they naturally have shallow root systems, and this has caused problems recently at the park. Over the past few years, we have experienced high water on Presque Isle. Remember, Presque Isle is 100% sand, and the shallow roots sometimes cannot hold the taller cottonwood trees. If you have been out at the park, you may have noticed all the fallen trees. Most are cottonwood, or a few others are large, top-heavy trees. Cottonwoods are one of the fastest-growing trees in North America and are known to add up to 6 feet yearly.

What does the cottonwood look like? Well, that varies a bit, but it is wide and can grow more than 100 feet tall. Most have firmly structured branches, making them top-heavy. Leaves have flat stems, which make them shake in the breeze. Visitors have told me they believe that this adds a visual element to the environment. Cottonwood is a stunning tree if grown in the right places. Yes, it can be an impressive sight when it has a chance to grow unrestricted. The tree welcomes wildlife. Birds love them, right along with squirrels. Roosting turkeys, eagles, other raptors and owls also seem to love this majestic tree.

Enjoy the summer, and see you at the park!

Gene Ware is the author of 10 books. He serves on the board of the Presque Isle Light Station and is past chairman of the boards of the Tom Ridge Center Foundation and the Presque Isle Partnership. Email him at ware906@gmail.com.

Gene Ware
Gene Ware

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Presque Isle's cottonwood tree fuzz a late spring snowfall lookalike