Eastern Cottonwood can grow to a large tree that is 65–130 feet tall and with a trunk that can be nearly 6 feet in diameter. This makes it one of the largest North American hardwood trees.
Cottonwoods tend to grow in deep moist soils along the margins of rivers, streams, and lakes.
The Eastern Cottonwood is one of the fastest-growing trees in North America. In the Mississippi River bottoms, a growth rate of up to 10–15 feet per year has been observed. Sustained growth rates of up 5 feet in height per year are common.
The bark is silvery-white, smooth, or lightly fissured when young, but becomes dark grey and deeply fissured in older trees.
The leaves are somewhat rounded and triangular with coarsely toothed edges. The teeth are curved and gland-tipped. The leaf petioles are flat and ribbonlike, which allow the leaves to wave in the slightest breeze.