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Ask Chicagoist: Fluffy White Stuff All Over The Place

By Sarah in Miscellaneous on Jun 9, 2005 4:20PM

cottonwood cotton.jpg
What's this fuzzy white stuff? Its everywhere I go lately, floating around in the air. Is it pollen, or are the gods having a crazy pillowfight? Do tell!

I Swear It Ain't Dandruff

Hi Flaky,
We were wondering that very same thing as our nose was chock full of the stuff during the Hyde Park Art Fair last weekend! Luckily, we got to chat with Bob Porter at the North Park Village Nature Center, who gave us the straight dope on the flying fluff. Thanks for the helpful conversation, Bob!

Every year around this time, our old friend the Cottonwood Tree scatters its seed via the fuzzy white stuff. That's right--scatters its seed. (Stop giggling in the back row!) This tree is common to the Midwest, and is the State Tree of BOTH Kansas and Nebraska. (Eat your heart out, White Oak!) The CW generally thrives in moist soils near wetlands, lakes, ponds and such, and does pretty well in urban landscapes. A perfect tree for Chicago! We didn't get the 411 on exactly how many Cottonwoods reside in the Windy City, but Ask Chicagoist reckons there's enough to make a giant fluff pile to jump around in, if only we would all work together.

Other Cottonwood facts:
*they can live to be 100 years old and as big as 5feet in diameter
*the female of the species makes the fluff!
*cotton textiles are made from the cotton Plant, dude, not the Tree
*they are understood as playing an important role as the white people explored the Plains and Western states
*the tree provides atmosphere in the classically tragic song I Remember Me, which we are compelled to quote out of reverence for its greatness:

"One day they were cutting flowers for something to do/On the bank of the road, 'neath the Cottonwoods/ He turned to her to ask if she'd marry him/ When a runaway truck hit him where he stood"

And howzabout the animals? The Cottonwood has a high "wildlife value" rating according to the helpful resource book, especially regarding songbirds, small mammals, and "hooved browsers" (also known as 'deer'). Meanwhile, Cottonwoods are "mildly allergenic" for humans, which means: call in sick to enjoy this fantastic weather!

Something fuzzy on the brain? Need some advice? Email Ask(at)