A cottonwood tree found while hiking the Skytrail at Outlook, SK
Throughout my travels in central Saskatchewan, where I find myself along the banks of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, I some times am lucky enough to spot some giants rising above the landscape. These giants are the cottonwood tree, an endangered tree that can be found along sandy river banks throughout the Canadian west and the mid-west in the United States.
A cottonwood tree can grow up up to 25m (80 feet) and 1 metre in diameter which makes them the tallest trees on the prairies. They rely on river currents to carry their hairy seeds downriver to new lands. You find themin sandy areas along the shores of rivers where they cement themselves with deep roots that sucks up hundreds of litres of water a day.
Cottonwood trees are easily indentifable by three things. First, their height. Secondly, their snarling branches and thirdly by their thick bark with deep ridges. There is something about their bark that you just can't help but touch it and feel it's deep grooves and ridges.
They remind me of an old farmer who grew up under the sun and wind, and now their deep wrinkles tell a thousand stories of days gone by. Whenever I stand in the shade of one I often think about all the things these old giants have experienced.
Why do you feel so good?
The cottonwood tree is more apart of our history than you think. Saskatchewan's largest and oldest tree is a cottonwood/basalm hybrid called the Popoff Tree. It is 21 meters tall and its trunk has a 5 meter circumfrance. Not only is it a giant, but it is over 160 years old.
This tree was a sapling when Saskatchewan was still called Rupert's Land and predates Canadian Confederation. The top of the tree was sheared off during a lightning storm which makes it look quite forboding. When you visit the site, you are drawn into thinking all the change that this tree has seen.
It sits quietly in a floodplain of the North Saskatchewan River near the town of Blaine Lake. Upon visiting the tree you make an instant connection to the past. I have never experienced a tree like this in Saskatchewan. It feels alien but familiar all at the same time.
I chose a really cold day to visit! I am sitting on the top of the tree that was sheared off by lightning
Unforunatley, cottonwood trees on the prairies and most other parts of North America where they reside are endangered. Ever since we started damming our rivers we greatly affected their ability to proliferate. They rely on annual spring floodings to carry their seeds.
When we built the Gardiner Dam to quell the mighty South Saskatchewan River we greatly changed the water flow that moves throughout the valley. Flow in the South Saskatchewan River has been reduced by up 70%. While this saved our bridges and has created irrigation for our crops we irreversibly changed the natural ecosystems of the river valleys.
The trees were also relentlessly cut down during the 19th and 20th century for their wood, which decimated their numbers even further. Now we are left with the odd grove that can require of a fair amount of bush whacking to get to. Many of them are starting to show their age. It is sad to think that these giants could one day disappear from our prairie skyline.
Where have you discovered a cottonwood tree in Saskatchewan? Tell us below where we can find your giant.