Three 150-foot-plus tall cottonwood trees tower over and dwarf my ranch-style home. From across the lake, I can always spot my house, as these trees are some of the tallest on my lake. Every spring sticky pods bearing a yellowish sap fall to the ground. These pods cover the patio, cars, and furniture with its difficult-to-remove substance; soap and water just don't suffice. A pod trail meanders through my house and upon my car’s floor mats after attaching to shoes, socks and my dog, Cheetah’s paws. In early summer, seeds wrapped in a fluffy cotton-like material create a winter-like snowfall. I even use a snow shovel to clean them from my driveway. These seeds will sprout at the slightest contact with moisture. If I fail to blow these droppings from my landscape mulch, I will awake to a green carpet of sprouts on a dewy morning.
My neighbor hints to removing these “messy trees” but Nature proves there is success from the appearance of chaos. Obvious wins include oxygen, beauty, and a shaded house during the intense summer heat. My air conditioning rarely starts before mid-July. Living along a lake, means a wet yard after rainstorms, enough so that ducks will be swimming on it. Near these water-loving trees, however, dryness prevails. Surprisingly, an arthritis soothing balm, called Balm of Gilead, can be made from the pods. I have also always wondered if the cotton I collect with my snow shovel can be spun into yarn and sure enough it sells for about $0.07 per yard.
At Cornell University, the cottonwood trees' leaves have inspired a small-scale energy generator[3,4]. An array of foam blocks, each suspended on its own cantilever beam, will vibrate in the wind like the leaves on the cottonwood branches (watch video). Each beam contains a piezoelectric transducer, which is a ceramic substance that creates electricity when deformed. Each block of the array provides a cumulative energy gain even at low wind speeds. These arrays can be mounted on buildings or other areas where a wind turbine isn't ideal.
Take 10 minutes today to get outside and explore how “Nature Comes Standard” in your life.