Cottonwood Catkins. Red or Green?

Red…? Male cottonwood catkins.

In keeping with the official New Mexican question, “Red or Green?”, cottonwood trees show their sex in red or green. Although New Mexico is a southwestern state, we have Eastern Cottonwood Trees. The catkins that form in early spring on Eastern Cottonwoods are red on male trees and green on female trees. The red catkins on male trees shrivel up and fall off as the male trees leaf out. Not much else happens to the male trees other than being tall, handsome, natural air-conditioners, and going through their normal seasonal cycles of sporting green leaves in summer, yellow leaves that turn brown in fall, and standing bare for a few months in winter before putting on catkins again in early spring.

The green catkins on the female trees turn into what we call “tatones”, shells where the cotton-like seeds forms. Around the end of June, into July, the green seedpods burst open and cottony seeds float off in search of a place to start new cottonwood trees. With the millions of cottony seeds floating around, like snowstorms in summertime, one would think we would be overrun with cottonwood trees. Cottonwoods need special conditions and flooding to propagate. With the levees and flood control dams built on the Rio Grande over the years, the conditions are not right for cottonwoods to easily propagate, so young cottonwoods are rare.

We have four males and four females on the property. Resa, Tiffany and Teagan have female trees and the one unclaimed cottonwood is female. Robin, Susan, Teagan, and Lavinia have male trees.

…or Green? Female cottonwood catkins.



Resa’s Tree is female.
Robin’s Tree is male.
Teagan has one male and one female tree in her pair of trees.
Tiffany’s Tree is female.
Susan’s Tree is male.
Lavinia’s Tree is male. It’s a rare cottonwood that sprouted from seed aided by our flood irrigation system.
Lavinia’s, Susan’s and Teagan’s handsome boys.