Telling Basswood from Cottonwood

A few clues that are useful in distinguishing Basswood from Cottonwood. June 14, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I have some trees that are down and cut into logs. How do I tell the difference between bass and cottonwood? I have looked at the bark, but as we know bark changes with the age of the tree. I will say that they have been logged for a while now and the weight is fairly lite. The leaves are gone. I live in eastern central Michigan.

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From Contributor W:
The bark is different. So is the structure of the wood cells, but you need a hand lens to tell the difference.

From contributor G:
When green basswood is exposed it turns an orange color. Dry basswood of course is white but also yellows with exposure. Basswood heartwood is difficult to distinguish from the sapwood. Cottonwood heartwood turns dingy gray/brown and is somewhat more distinguishable. The rays in basswood consist of multiple layers of cells and can be easily seen with a hand lens. Cottonwood rays are a single cell wide and are difficult to distinguish with a hand lens. If both are common where you live you could visit a sawmill and ask for a cutoff of each and compare them to what you have.

From contributor J:
Cottonwood smells of bovine urine with a sufficient moisture content, while basswood has more of a rubbery smell. Basswood smoke really stinks like burnt rubber. Cottonwood has a course gray bark, basswood a finer brownish bark. Carving quality basswood can be difficult to attain depending on the customer. Also, basswood doesn't attain the size of cottonwood. Lumber appearances are quite similar as well. I don't know if these observations hold true for your location.

From contributor B:
Even though they are both light woods I think that basswood will indent very easily with a thumbnail whereas cottonwood is relatively hard in comparison. Basswood tends to have hollow knots as well.