Fountain Creek Nature Center Audio Tour – Stop 6 – Cottonwood Trees

Cottonwood trees are the giants of the park, and many are older than any of today’s human visitors.

Listen to hear a secret story happening inside our Grandfather Cottonwood.


Humans have used storytelling as a way to record history, make sense of the world, and pass down important cultural beliefs for thousands of years. For example, do you know where stars come from? The Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans know. Their story about where stars come from goes something like this. All things come from Mother Earth, stars are no exception. They formed secretly in the earth and then drift along just under the surface until they find the roots of the cottonwood tree. They enter the roots and slowly work their way up through the tree, finally, they come to rest in the small twigs at the end of the branches. Here, they wait patiently until they’re needed. Then when the spirit of the night sky decides she needs more beautiful stars to light up the heavens. She calls on the wind spirit to help her. The spirit of the wind sends his blustery gusts in all directions, soon the wind shakes the cottonwood trees so hard the twigs begin to break off. As each twig breaks away the stars are released. Even more, escape when the twigs break again as they hit the ground. New stars race up into the night sky where each one is carefully put into a special place. Now, when the spirit of the night sky has enough new stars she tells the wind spirit to stop, and the wind settles down to a gentle night breeze. Of course, the spirit of the night sky wants to thank the wind spirit for his help, so she asks all the new stars to Twinkle brightly for him. This way, the wind spirit can see where all the new stars he helped escape have been placed. Do you believe there are stars in the Cottonwood tree? Well, see for yourself. Find a dry twig on the ground with a growth ring that goes all the way around the stick. Snap the stick right at the growth ring if you make a clean break. What do you see inside? Leave the stick here beneath Grandfather Cottonwood, then bring someone back to listen to the story and share the gift of discovery with them.