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Since you asked

Cottonwood seeds look like snow I moved to the Rogue Valley for the mild winters and warm summers, but what gives with this snow that's falling lately? It seems particularly heavy around the creeks and even accumulates in some areas. It looks something like downy feathers. Are baby birds shedding their down?

' L. Gordon, Medford

It's not snow, and there probably aren't enough baby birds in the valley to produce molted feathers in the quantity that's out there. What you are seeing is cottonwood seeds released by the female cottonwood tree.

Cottonwoods love to keep their feet wet. That's why the snowfall seems heaviest around the area's creeks. Each female can produce thousands of fruits containing hundreds of seeds each. A large tree alone can produce millions of seeds.

The seeds themselves are actually only about 1-by-4 millimeters, but the fluffy filaments around them can help them blow around for miles.

The seeds typically drop in early summer or late spring, just as creek and river flows begin to recede.

That's no accident, because the seeds need muddy river and creek banks to germinate.

If conditions aren't just right ' if there's a late flood that drowns the seedlings or a severe drought that bakes them ' it's bad news for them. But in the masses they are produced, they always seem to find a way.

Send questions to Since You Asked, Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to