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Cottonwood Trees in North Spokane County

by W.G. Magnuson

In 1883 the Dart pioneer family established a small community that is now called Dartford. Dartford is just North of Spokane at the Little Spokane River about 1/2 mile West of highway 395 (Division). The Dart brothers had arrived from Minnesota around 1879 and built and operated a sawmill and later a gristmill at Dartford.

In 1883 the brothers built a family home and barn. The home burned down in 1995 but the barn still stands and is being repaired (restored). The house was rebuilt in pretty much the same style as the 1883 house. At the time the original house was built, or shortly thereafter, four trees were planted – two fir trees at the front of the family house and two cottonwood trees just East of the fir trees. This article calls attention to the cottonwood trees.

The larger of the cottonwoods is a female tree with a circumference of just over 17 feet (diameter of 5.4 feet) measured at five feet above ground and may be one of the largest and maybe oldest cottonwood tree in Spokane County. At least that is what a Spokane County Park Department employee said to a local resident. The two trees are shown in Picture 1 in their winter state.

The Dartford cottonwood tree and its mate stand on Leonard and Margo Long’s property in Dartford, WA.

Female cottonwood trees produce a cottony covered seed and every spring the cotton rains down from this tree. The lifespan of cottonwood trees is variable but can last over 100 years. The cottonwood being described here is estimated to be 128 years old. It is a measured 136 feet tall (using an inclinometer and high school trigonometry). Large cottonwood trees are typically 80 to 100 feet tall with trunk diameters up to 5 or 6 feet. The Cottonwood at Dartford is a large mature female tree. I mentioned that the larger of the two cottonwoods is a female tree. Cottonwood trees are dioecious, which means they have male and female flowers on separate trees. The male tree pollen is wind blown and the female tree seed is surrounded by a cottony substance. Although the cottony seed can be annoying, there is no allergenic properties to it. The male tree in Dartford is just 19.3 feet away and has a trunk circumference of 11.9 feet (diameter of 3.75 feet) and stands much less tall. So these two cottonwoods are old trees and like most old trees an occasional limb will die and eventually breaks in high winds and falls to the ground. A closeup of the trunk of the female tree is shown in Picture 2.

Closeup of the trunk of the large female cottonwood tree in Dartford. It’s diameter is 5.4 feet measured five feet above the ground.

When Autumn arrives, the cottonwood leaves turn yellow and fall – there are a lot of leaves. The Dartford trees are adjacent to the driveway and of course have to be raked and hauled away, a unpleasant task, but in the summer the cottonwood provides a cool shaded area.

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