Cottonless Cottonwood Tree Propagation

Reader Question

I was wondering why all cottonless cottonwood trees are grafted sticks.  If I take a branch from my cottonwood tree will it reproduce true to the cottonless variety or can it change because it has different root stock?  Mostly I just want to plant a lot more trees and this would be an inexpensive way to do it.


Cottonwood trees are fast growing and produce vibrant fall color.  They are valuable for quick shade, windbreaks, screening, and are non-toxic to livestock.  Unrooted dormant cuttings may be planted in the post hole and will root quickly to grow at a startling rate the first year. 

MO:  Cottonless cottonwoods are sterile clones that do not produce the cottony seeds that are such a seasonal nuisance in home gardens.  Without seed, the only way to reproduce them is by cuttings.  When growers are producing hundreds, maybe thousands of new trees in the field, they need just as many foot long cuttings to start each new tree.  Obtaining so much living material is difficult because there’s only so much to go around each season.  Plus, the more a grower buys the more expensive the crop.

Growers of any plant use grafting to extend the among of scion wood (cottonless cottonwood living material) to as many new plants as possible.  They’ll plant the field in ordinary popular root stock which is cheap and plentiful.  Then when the scion wood arrives during the right season, small bits maybe just a few inches long are grafted on top of the field poplar.  Rather than requiring a foot or two of scion wood to a new plant, this method only requires those few inches.  It’s easy to see where the economy lies.

Once grafted on, that new wood will grow into the cottonless cottonwood, but if suckers develop below the graft union they will be the common popular, so be sure to avoid these.  To propagate cottonless cottonwood from a grafted tree, simply take your cuttings above the graft union.  These will grow into the very same genetic sterile clone as the scion wood. 

So the short answer is yes, you can take cuttings provided they are from above the graft union.