Few trees manage to survive the cold, windy, and oft-dark tundra environment. Cottonwoods, are an exception to the norm, and can be found sparsely scattered across much of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.There are several species of cottonwoods, all types of poplar, which thrive further south, but only a few have what it takes to endure the unforgiving artic environment.
By large, the most common cottonwood, or tree for that matter, found in the preserve is the balsam poplar (Populus, balsamifera). The balsam poplar is the northernmost hardwood species in America. Unlike the cottonwoods found further south that can grow up to 100 feet, the balsam popular is a stunted tree. It has dark green leave that turn golden before shedding in fall and sports pointed, resinous buds in the winter and early spring.
The balsam poplar plays a critical role in the riparian ecosystem by providing shelter and food for a variety of animals. An abundance of insects make homes out of the riverbed habitat of the cottonwood, and in turn provide a food source for fish, birds and other animals.
The cottonwood is part of the willow family, and like many species in the family the balsam poplar is known for its medicinal uses.Certain parts of the tree, especially the bud and bark, have historically been used to make skin salves, teas and other herbal medicines.