Fremont cottonwood (Populis fremontii) This tree creates a ribbon of green along the Virgin River through Zion Canyon. In the spring, clusters of small seeds tufted with silver hairs fill each ripe fruit, called a catkin. When the catkins open, the seeds that burst forth resemble cotton balls, giving cottonwood its name. Then the winds blow, dispersing the seeds, and filling the air with cottonwood “snow” and covering the ground with “drifts.” Cottonwood might be called the tree of life in Zion Canyon, for it provides food, a place to roost and nest, and shaded habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including Zion’s native fish, many kinds of birds and insects, mule deer, and beavers.
Cottonwood trees may live to be over 100 years old. A favorite of visitors is the cottonwood that shades the lawn in front of Zion Lodge, one of the oldest and largest in the canyon. Cuttings from this tree, called “heritage cuttings,” are now growing in Zion’s Native Plant Nursery and will someday replace the famous and beloved old tree.