Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Populus fremontii, Fremont Cottonwood

Fremont Cottonwood, or Fremont’s Cottonwood is a large, fast growing riparian tree that provides important habitat requirements for mammals, birds and insects. Populus fremontiiFremont Cottonwood is a southwestern United States species that is native to lower and upper deserts. Populus fremontiiFremont Cottonwood is a very large conspicuous tree that thrives in riparian areas such as rivers, streams and perennial washes, often growing in nearly pure stands. Populus fremontiiFremont Cottonwood is a large flat-topped deciduous tree with heart or cordate shaped green leaves with serrated margins. Populus fremontiiFremont Cottonwood has inconspicuous green or yellow-green flowers and yellowish twigs. Populus fremontii

Scientific Name: Populus fremontii
Common Name: Fremont Cottonwood

Also Called: Alamo Cottonwood, Arizona Cottonwood, Cottonwood, Gila Cottonwood, Fremont's Cottonwood, Western Cottonwood (Spanish: Álamo)

Family: Salicaceae or Willow Family

Synonyms: (Populus deltoides var. fremontii, Populus macdougallii)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Up to 30 feet (9.1 m) or more (90 feet (27.4 m)).

Growth Form: Tree, large fast growing riparian tree; trunk diameter of 4 feet not uncommon, open crown; bark tannish or whitish, smooth with deep furrows on the main trunk; twigs tannish-white or yellowish, young twigs with pubescence, large main branches, top or crown of tree wide and flat-topped, older bark gray-brown and deeply furrowed, winter buds yellow-brown,resinous and usually hirsute.

Leaves: Green, bluish-green; variable across range and sub-species, deciduous; leaves cordate to sub-cordate; leaves with petiole; margins scalloped; prominent white lined leaf veins; leaves turning yellow in fall.

Flower Color: Green or yellowish-green; dioecious; flowering stem (inflorescence) are catkins, male and female catkins are on the same tree; fruit is a rounded or ellipsoid capsule; seeds with cottony hairs for wind dispersion.

Flowering Season: February to April or May; March to April in California and Texas.

Elevation: Sea Level to 7,399 feet (0-2200 m)

Habitat Preferences: Thrives in riparian areas such as rivers, streams, perennial washes, often grows in pure stands or may be the dominant or co-dominant species with Goodding's Willow and other primary riparian species such as Black Cottonwood, Salix spp., Walnut, and Velvet Ash.

Recorded Range: Fremont's Cottonwood is found in the Southwestern United States in AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, TX and UT. In Arizona it is found almost throughout the state with few or no records in Apache county.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Populus fremontii.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.

Wetland Indicator: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 13 non-hybridized species for the genus Populus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 98 accepted species names with 170 infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States, Arizona there are 5 species of Populus, in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas each have 6 species and Utah has 7 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

There are 2 sub-species in Populus fremontii;
Populus fremontii subsp. fremontii, Fremont Cottonwood, (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, UT);
Populus fremontii subsp. mesetae, Fremont Cottonwood, (AZ, TX).

Comments: Fremont Cottonwood is common in southwestern United States deserts where it is found along streams commonly with Arizona Walnut (Juglans major), Goodding's Willow, Salix gooddingii and Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii).

Populus fremontii, along with co-dominant willow trees, provides important habitat for a wide variety of birds and many other dessert and riparian dwelling species in the Southwestern United States. Fremont's Cottonwood is a conspicuous and important riparian species that provides significant perches and nesting habitat for large and small birds and provides cover and shade for a host of mammals, including deer, squirrels, raccoons, ring-tails, beavers and an assortment of rodents.

Populus fremontii may hybridize with Narrowleaf- and Black- Cottonwood, however, the 2 species overlap with each other apparently without hybridization.

Fremont's Cottonwood named in honor of John Charles Fremont (1813-1890).

Importance to Wildlife and Livestock
Fremont Cottonwood is found in arid and semi-arid regions in the southwestern United States. Cottonwood-willow communities provide excellent and important habitat for many species of wildlife and insects. Wildlife species benefiting from Cottonwood-willow ecosystems include both mammals and birds. Mammals associated with these trees include raccoons, squirrels, ringtail, beavers and other rodents. Raptors, including eagles and hawks use the trees for nesting, protection perching while hunting prey. The large trees also provide habitat to cavity-nesting birds, perching birds (Bell's Vireo) and woodpeckers including Downy and Ladder-backed woodpeckers. Great blue heron's also benefit these large tree communities. In general they are known to provide excellent over-story canopy coverage of most desert riparian areas.
Livestock also benefit from shade and cover from these trees.

For a comprehensive thoroughly documented review of Populus fremontii see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

The genus Populus is Latin for "people", and as explained by Michael L. Charters is a reference to the moving leaves in a breeze which resemble a moving populace. The genus Populus was first published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The species epithet "fremontii" is to honor John C. Fremont (1813-1890), known as "the Pathfinder". Mr. Fremont was an Army officer and presidential candidate who collected plants while exploring the western United States and this plant in particular in the state of California.

Populus fremontii has been used for a variety of uses by Southwestern American indigenous peoples.
Cahuilla Drug, Analgesic, Infusion of bark and leaves used to wet a handkerchief and tie it around the head for headaches.
Diegueno Drug, Dermatological Aid, Infusion of leaves used as a wash or poultice of leaves applied to bruises, wounds or insect stings.
Havasupai Fiber, Building Material, Wood used for fence posts and in the construction of shades and houses.
Mendocino Indian Drug, Dermatological Aid, Decoction of bark used as a wash for bruises and cuts.
Pima Drug, Dermatological Aid, Decoction of plant used as a wash for sores.
Yuki Drug, Cold Remedy, Infusion of bark or leaves taken for colds.
Yuki Drug, Dermatological Aid, Infusion of bark or leaves taken for cuts and sores.
See all ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Date Profile Completed: 07/25/2016, updated 06/06/2017, updated 09/12/2019
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 09/12/2019)
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 09/12/2019).
Salicaceae Part Two: Salix - JANAS 29(1): 39-62. 1995. (G.W. Argus)(accessed 09/12/2019) Eckenwalder 1992, Heil et al. 2013, Allred and Ivey 2012; Seinet Field Guide Information
Taylor, Jennifer L. 2000. Populus fremontii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2016, July 25].
John O. Sawyer, Jr. 2012, Populus fremontii subsp. fremontii, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on September 12, 2019.
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names, recorded geographic locations and general information 07/25/2016).
Michael L. Charters; California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology; (accessed 09/12/2019)