Print Page


Go With the Flow

The Largest Cottonwood Forest in the West

Thorny shrubs beneath the larger trees are wild roses.

During the early summer, these roses bloom with small, bright pink flower. Besides being colorful, wild roses have several practical uses. The thickets make good nesting sites and cover for birds. Dried rose leaves and petals can be used to make wine and tea. When the flowers die, bright red fruits called rose hips appear. This part of the plant is also used for tea and wine, as well as for jelly. Rose hips, eaten by birds and small mammals, are very rich in Vitamin C. Next time you are in a drugstore, see if you can find Vitamin C that contains rose hips.

Dried Rose Hips

Why do trees grow in one place and not another?

Why do junipers dot the hillsides and cottonwoods line the creek? There are several explanations to these questions. A tree or plant will grow in the place with the best growing conditions—the right amounts of water and sun, the right kinds of temperatures and the best soil. You already learned that cottonwoods grow along creeks and rivers because water is an important part of their habitat.

Do you see any different environments?

The South Fork of the Snake River supports the largest cottonwood forest in the West. Cottonwoods thrive in a constantly changing environment. Floods tear down river banks and carry soil down the river, creating gravel bars where cottonwood seeds can grow. Where the river channel is today may be where a new cottonwood forest springs to life in decades to come.

The dominant trees along the river are narrow-leaf cottonwoods.

The long, pointed leaves make the tree’s name fit. What about the cottonwood part of the name? The tree’s small flowers bloom in March. The fruit of the cottonwood are small capsules filled with seeds covered by cottony down. These cottony seeds are released in June and are carried by the wind. When the wind drops the seeds, a cottonwood may have a chance to grow. Trees similar to the cottonwood, such as aspen and poplar, also release cottony seeds.

Bald Eagle courtesy Tim Sommers

Keep your eyes on the cottonwood trees.

You may spot a bald eagle. Bald eagles need cottonwood trees for nest sites and as a place to perch when hunting fish in the river. Continue looking out over the landscape for other birds such as hawks, vultures, or osprey riding the air currents. 


Last updated: 03-25-2013