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.


61 thoughts on “Cottonwood Catkins. Red or Green?

    • Hi Donna. Yep male catkins come out earlier that the females’ and start to shrivel as the female catkins start coming on.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Gabriela. There’s one cottonwood up for grabs on the property if you would like to claim it. It’s the one on top of my name in the photo of Robin’s Tree.

      • Great now all the cottonwoods on the property have been claimed! That tree was feeling bad that no one had claimed it. It is overjoyed that you and Maya have it. BTW Owls like to perch in your tree.

      • Thank you so much. Maya and I are honored. She asked me what did we do to deserve that. I told her itโ€™s out of the kindness of your heart. ๐Ÿฆ‰ they fascinated me. ๐Ÿ’

      • We are going into owl season. You will start seeing mor posts with owls.

    • Hi Laurie. Different species of cottonwoods are different how the bloom. As Holly mentioned, they have cottonwoods in Florida that have light pink blossoms.

  1. These are beautiful trees. I have an infinity for the Tangle Heart… she is going to be busy soon , Resa and PBH have plans.
    Here in the south as you know we have gorgeous cottonwood trees that fill with white (or light pink) blossoms, my favorite trees. Beautiful photos Timothy.

    • Hi Holly. The cottonwoods in your area sound like they are beautiful in bloom. Your Tangle-Heart Tree is special and magical.

  2. This is such an interesting post.
    Catkins… I’ve heard the word, but why did I never wonder what they were?
    These cottonwoods really are magic, and they have cats! (kins)
    Figures my tree is a female. It’s too gorgeous to be a male (sorry guys)
    Male and female trees; I never heard of that. I know there are male and female marijuana plants.
    Dare I? Okay! My tree is the prettiest… okay they are all beautiful…. but Resa’s Tree rules!

  3. That is so interesting! My grandparents lived in Cottonwood AZ so I spent a lot of time there as a kid. Their back yard was the Verde river which included hundreds of Cottonwoods, I remember all the “cotton” flying through the air, truly menacing, but still pretty!

    • Hi Tiffany. I had some friends who lived in Cottonwood. I don’t know if they are still there. It’s a beautiful area.

    • Hi Marina. You’ve asked a simple question that is quite complicated about the sex of your pear tree. I don’t remember what type of pear tree it is (there are around 800 species of pear trees) but based on how it grows its a common species. Since it bears fruit, it definitely has female tendencies, but we don’t have another pear tree on the property, therefore, it is most likely monoecious, which means it either has both male and female blossoms, or the blossoms have both male and female parts, hermaphrodite flowers.

      Trees can change sex seasonally (produce male blossoms one season, female blossoms the next), once or twice over their lifetime or stay the same sex all their life.

      If your tree was dioecious, trees that are either male and female like the cottonwoods, we would have to have a male pear tree within 100 feet of her for pollination.

      • How interesting!!!! I recall my grandparents grafting various fruit baring trees in our old garden…
        I can’t wait to see my pear tree, however it wishes to be! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. So here is my question of the day. As a child living in a small town south of the Albuquerque area we had tatone fights. Individuals my age (60’s) remember those days well. However, I have tried for years to figure out where the name Tatone originated from. I can find it mentioned in regulations for cities as nuisance tree’s and ban from city limits. However, no one knows where the name comes from. An article in a New Mexico University Bulletin suggests that Navajo ate the pods. I have traced the Cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande trees into Mexico though one of the great expeditions, and yet no mention of the name Tatone. I am either obsessed or fascinated with Tatone’s, but wish I knew the history of the word! Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • Hi Marie. Tatone fights were part of growing up out here. But alas, I cannot shed light on the origin of tatone, it’s just what they were called.

  5. I always loved the Cottonwood trees in Colorado and New Mexico, and had no idea they were Eastern Cottonwoods, or that the males were red and the females green. That seeds a a whole new light on Christmas when ordering At a restaurant in New Mexico. Now, my red and green chili โ€œChristmasโ€ order is going to feel more like my plate should get a room. Iโ€™ll of course go with it as Iโ€™ll probably not want my red n green chili thieved and let them continue to do their thing in ma belly.

  6. “Mix them all together and call it Christmas time.” That’s a line from my song “The Capsaicin Club”. Everything boils down to red or green around these parts. Thanks, Jordan.

  7. nice! I have three big male cottonwoods on my land and I was hoping they were not female. They are growing the red catkins this spring so that is awesome! Thanks

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