At least, that’s how I remember the old Burl Ives folk song from my Southern childhood. Actually, the lyrics featured cigarette trees, an altogether different species that grows “where hens lay soft-boiled eggs.” The flowers do resemble small cigarettes and look rather ugly, if you ask me.
Cottonwood trees, on the other hand, are rather graceful and willowy, with heart shaped leaves and, depending upon the specific type, resemble birches or poplar trees.
Before the merry month of May, cottonwoods produce a sweet fragrance before anything blooms in my garden. The scent wafts on the air from trees miles away, emitted by flavonoids in the sticky sap within the tree’s buds that coats the leaves of cottonwood as they unfurl, protecting them against insects eager to attack the first fresh leaves of the year.
When those buds burst, they shed white seed-bearing white fluffs delicate as goosedown . . .
. . . that float as much as 20 miles on spring breezes. The seeds will sprout within 24 hours of hitting the ground.
And if fallen fluff becomes a thick enough accumulation, the ground can look like a snow-covered garden . . .
. . . but a good rainfall should wash away all this faux snow, I think. Fortunately, no cottonwoods grow that close to our own residential area. Nonetheless, when those first tiny will o’ wisps float around my head when I’m outside, I invariably “hear” ole Burl Ives singing in my memory.
Oh, the buzzin’ of the bees in the cottonwood trees . . .