The cottonwood tree is a critical part of the “inter-planting regimen.” It supplies half of the trees (500 per acre on average) going into our reforested lands. AIM researched how to maximize time and space in forest creation, working with leading forestry programs and cottonwood labs.
The Stoneville Laboratory in Mississippi documented the cottonwood as a key to the creation of a healthy, integrated, and permanently standing ecological forests. Big River oversees the growth of the cottonwood in the nursery, and then their cutting, transport and planting on newly enrolled acres annually.
The Big River nursery is essential to our business enterprise. Created in 2004 and located in Winnsboro, LA, to grow cottonwood trees on scale, Big River ranges from 125 to over 300 acres depending on need. The nursery produces over 10,000,000 cuttings each year and possesses in excess of 90% of the cottonwood market in the United States today.
We chose cottonwoods because they grow quickly (about 6-8 feet a year). Additionally, they shade the smaller hardwoods early, and, in turn, help turn marginal dirt into soil, which then brings the insects back, followed by the birds. The dappled shade provided by the cottonwoods enables the hardwoods to grow longer, taller, and straighter. This results in a fully functioning forest by year four. In years 10, 17, and 25, a third of the cottonwoods are removed each “harvest,” training the hardwoods to reach to the sky and fill a forest canopy completely by year 26.
Cottonwoods are a key to a new forest’s growth rate, species recovery, carbon accumulation, and forest scale because they grow more quickly, making the carbon intake from cottonwood economically sizable in the early years of forest growth. And because cottonwoods are such a strong carbon incubator and storage species, their initial growth must be protected and maximized.