The black cottonwoods sustained considerable damage during the recent ice storm and thousands of limbs that broke off during the storm are lying on the ground along the river. It is heartbreaking to see all the damage, but there is one fortunate side to this story. Some of the trees that fell over still have some roots in the ground which supply enough nutrients to keep them growing. As spring arrived, these trees sent out the male and female flower catkins. This is a great opportunity to see the flowers up close which are normally out of reach on the tree where you can’t easily view them. Black cottonwoods are dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are on separate trees.

The female flower is interesting. The most obvious feature is the curvy, fleshy, yellow parts projecting out of the top which I interpreted as the stigma that receives the pollen. I took a photo of it drying out and turning brown which gave me a better understanding of its shape. Underneath this is a green, fuzzy capsule that is firm to the touch. I cut one in half to look inside. The walls were thick and a bundle of seeds were nestled inside. This capsule will become brown, split open, and release small seeds with white, fluffy parachutes. When the seeds are being let go it looks like snow blowing around through the air.

The males have 40 – 60 stamens that start as small, red pods. The catkin will continue to grow and elongate. Upon maturity, the red pods split open and release small dust clouds of yellow pollen.

Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. I look forward to seeing you out there.

See more of Bryan’s work here.