Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) in Idlewild Park, Reno. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.
- Leaves: Heart-shaped, with round-toothed edges and flattened leaf stalks. Yellow-green.
- Bark: Smooth and gray on young trees, thick and furrowed on old.
- Flowers: Male flowers bright red, female flowers green (March-April).
- Seeds: Hanging clusters of fruit dispense cotton-like seed (May-June).
January 16th, . This morning we continued our journey along this beautiful stream, which we naturally called the Salmon-Trout [Truckee] River. Large trails led up on either side; the stream was handsomely timbered with large cottonwoods, and the waters were very clean and pure. We were traveling along the mountains of the great Sierra, which rose on our right, covered with snow; but below, the temperature was mild and pleasant. We saw a number of dams which the Indians had constructed to catch fish. After having made about eighteen miles, we encamped under some large cottonwoods on the riverbottom, where there was tolerably good grass.”
~John C. Fremont, Narratives of Exploration and Adventure
John C. Fremont, the first white explorer to enter the Truckee River region in 1844, camped near Pyramid Lake under groves of the large cottonwood that now carry his name. Members of the local Paiute Tribe used the cottonwood tree for its sweet-tasting sap, eaten raw or cooked, and the bitter-tasting bark, which could be cooked in strips like noodles (Murphey, 1959). Fremont cottonwood are most common along the lower half of the Truckee River, from Reno downstream to Pyramid Lake.
The heartwood of Fremont cottonwood is soft and prone to breakage. Branches often fall to the ground during storms, or in times of drought or stress. Because of the soft wood, these trees make prime habitat for cavity nesting birds; cottonwood stands contain the highest bird densities of riparian areas in Western North America. Cottonwoods also stabilize riverbanks and provide shade, keeping the stream channel cool during the hot days of summer.
Fremont cottonwood is a flood-dependent species. As seedlings and young trees, cottonwood grow in dense bands along river banks; as they mature, they thin themselves out, eventually creating “gallery forests” of widely spaced trees with a high canopy and an open understory. Cottonwoods and other riparian species suffered huge declines during the last century due to damming and dewatering of the Truckee River, however, today, better management practices and large-scale river restoration projects are underway to help these forests recover (Rood, et al., 2003).
References & Links
Fremont, J. (1956). Narratives of Exploration and Adventure. Allan Nevins (Ed.). New York, NY: Longmans, Green & Co.
Murphey, E. V. (1959). Indian Uses of Native Plants. Fort Bragg, CA: Mendocino County Historical Society.
Rood, S. B., Gourley, C. R., Ammon, E. M., Heki, L. G., Klotz, J. R., Morrison, M. L., et al. (2003). Flows for Floodplain Forests: A Successful Riparian Restoration. BioScience , 53 (7), 647-656.
USDA. (2015). USDA Plants Database. (U. D. Agriculture, Producer) Retrieved July 14, 2011, from US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=pofr2