Willow Varieties – Types Of Willow Trees To Grow In The Landscape

By: Teo Spengler

Willows(Salix spp.) are not a small family. You’ll find over 400 willow treesand shrubs, all moisture-loving plants. Types of willow that are native to the NorthernHemisphere grow in the milder to cooler regions.

If you are curious about which willow varieties might work well in your yard or garden, you’ll need to start by figuring out how much room you have and what growing conditions you can offer.

Read on for an overview of popular varieties of willows.

Identifying Different Willows

It isn’t very difficult to identify a willow. Even childrencan pick out pussywillows on a tree or shrub in spring. However, distinguishing betweendifferent willows is extremely difficult.

That’s because many types of willows interbreed. With almosta hundred different varieties of willow in this country, lots of hybrids areproduced with characteristics of both parents. As a result, most people do notworry about distinguishing between varieties of willows.

Popular Types of Willow

There are more than a few stand-out willow varieties thateveryone knows. One is the popular weepingwillow (Salix babylonica). This tree grows to 40 feet (12 m.) highwith a canopy spread of some 30 (9 m.) feet. The branches cascade down, makingit appear to be weeping.

Another of the common types of willow is the corkscrewwillow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortusa’). This is a tree that grows to 40feet (12 m.) tall and wide. Its branches twist in interesting ways, making it afine tree for winter landscapes.

Other tall willow varieties include peach-leaf willow (Salixamygdaloides) that gets 50 feet (15 m.) tall and Americanpussy willow (Salix discolor), growing to 25 feet (7.6 m.). Don’tconfuse this with goat willow (Salix caprea) that sometimes goes by thecommon name of pussy willow.

Smaller Willow Varieties

Not every willow is a soaring shade tree. There are tallwillow trees and shrubs with many stems that stay quite short.

The dappledwillow (Salix integra ‘Hahuro-nishiki’), for instance, is a lovelylittle tree that tops out at just 6 feet (1.8 m.) tall. Its foliage isvariegated in soft shades of pink, green and white. It also offers winterinterest, as the branches on its multiple stems are bright red.

Another smaller willow is the Purple Osier willow (Salixpurpurea). As the name suggests, this shrub has astonishing purple stemsand leaves with hues of blue. It only grows to 10 feet (3 m.) tall and shouldbe cut back severely every five years. Unlike many willows, it doesn’t mind alittle dry soil or shade.

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Willows, also called sallows and osiers, form the genus Salix, are around 400 species [1] of deciduous trees and shrubs, found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most species are known as willow, but some narrow-leaved shrub species are called osier, and some broader-leaved species are referred to as sallow (from Old English sealh, related to the Latin word salix, willow). Some willows (particularly arctic and alpine species) are low-growing or creeping shrubs for example, the dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) rarely exceeds 6 cm (2.4 in) in height, though it spreads widely across the ground.

The generic name Salix comes from Latin and was already used by the Romans for various types of willow. [2] A theory is that the word is ultimately derived from a Celtic language, sal meaning 'near' and lis meaning 'water', alluding to their habitat. [3]

Pretty Pink Pussy Willows

There are few small trees easier to grow than the pussy willow. However, this tree has certain specific requirements that must be met in order to thrive.

Few small trees or large shrubs are as easy to grow as the pussy willow (Salix discolor). When growing a pussy willow tree, you’ll find care of the small tree is minimal when it is planted in the right place. Learn where and how to plant a pussy willow tree and the ease in care of pussy willows. Growing a Pussy Willow Tree One of the first trees to break bud in late winter or early spring, learning how to grow pussy willows provides the garden with unique interest from the furry catkins, which are soon followed by whitish, yellow flowers, when much of the landscape still sleeps in dormancy.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing A Pussy Willow Tree: Learn About The Care Of Pussy Willows https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/pussy-willow/growing-pussy-willows.htm

A common species native to Europe, western Asia and central Asia, Salix caprea is also known as the pussy willow, goat willow and great sallow.


This deciduous small tree or large shrub typically reaches a height of 26–33 ft, sometimes 39 ft. The flowers are soft, silky catkins produced in early spring before the appearance of its leaves. The plant is dioecious, meaning male and female catkins are found on different plants. Male catkins mature to yellow when loaded with pollen and female catkins mature pale green.

The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous minute 0.2 mm seeds in fine, cottony hairs. These fine hairs help to disperse seeds which require bare soil to germinate.

The scientific name as well as the common name, 'goat willow', probably derive from the first known illustration of the species found in Hieronymus Bock's Herbal (1546) which shows the plant being browsed by a goat. Historically, the species was also widely used as a browse for goats, to which Bock's illustration may refer.

There are two varieties of pink pussy willows: S. c. var. caprea, found in lowland regions throughout its range, and S. c. var. sphacelata, found in high altitudes in the mountain ranges of central and northern Europe.


S. caprea is found in both wet and damp environments such as riverbanks and lake shores, and also in drier sites where ground disturbances expose bare soil.

Hybrids with several other willow species are common, most notably with Salix cinerea (S. × reichardtii), Salix aurita (S. × multinervis), Salix viminalis (S. × smithiana), and Salix purpurea (S. × sordida). Populations of S. caprea often show hybrid introgression.

Unlike almost all other willows, pure specimens do not root easily from cuttings. If a willow cutting does root easily, it is probably a hybrid with another species of willow.

The leaves are a food source for several species of Lepidoptera, and are also commonly eaten by browsing mammals. They're very susceptible to the midge gall, Rhabdophaga rosaria, which forms camellia gall on S. caprea.

Cultivation and uses

The cultivars used in the garden are the male, S. caprea 'Kilmarnock' and female, S. caprea 'Weeping Sally'. The height of these cultivars is determined by the height at which the graft is made. Plants can also be grown from greenwood cuttings. Hardwood cuttings are difficult to root.

Both tannin and salicin can be extracted from willow bark. The tree is not a good source for timber because the wood is brittle and makes very violent sounds when burned.

Salix discolor, the American pussy willow, is often grown for cut flowers. In Scandinavia, goat willow cuttings are used to make willow flutes (click to hear a willow flute). In Hungary and Slovakia, newly-opened catkins are used in the same way as olive branches on Palm Sunday.


  • 1 Description
    • 1.1 Flowers
  • 2 Ecology
    • 2.1 Pests and diseases
  • 3 Uses
    • 3.1 Cultivation
      • 3.1.1 Hybrids and cultivars
    • 3.2 Medicinal
    • 3.3 Manufacturing
    • 3.4 Weeds
    • 3.5 Other
  • 4 Conservation
  • 5 Culture
  • 6 Selected species
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 Bibliography
  • 10 External links

Willows all have abundant watery bark sap, which is heavily charged with salicylic acid, soft, usually pliant, tough wood, slender branches, and large, fibrous, often stoloniferous roots. The roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to live, and roots readily sprout from aerial parts of the plant. [4] Ehraz Ahmed

The leaves are typically elongated, but may also be round to oval, frequently with serrated edges. Most species are deciduous semievergreen willows with coriaceous leaves are rare, e.g. Salix micans and S. australior in the eastern Mediterranean. All the buds are lateral no absolutely terminal bud is ever formed. The buds are covered by a single scale. Usually, the bud scale is fused into a cap-like shape, but in some species it wraps around and the edges overlap. [5] The leaves are simple, feather-veined, and typically linear-lanceolate. Usually they are serrate, rounded at base, acute or acuminate. The leaf petioles are short, the stipules often very conspicuous, resembling tiny, round leaves, and sometimes remaining for half the summer. On some species, however, they are small, inconspicuous, and caducous (soon falling). In color, the leaves show a great variety of greens, ranging from yellowish to bluish color. Willows are among the earliest woody plants to leaf out in spring and the last to drop their leaves in autumn. Leafout may occur as early as February depending on the climate and is stimulated by air temperature. If daytime highs reach 55 °F (10 °C) for a few consecutive days, a willow will attempt to put out leaves and flowers. Leaf drop in autumn occurs when day length shortens to approximately ten hours and 25 minutes, which varies by latitude (as early as the first week of October for boreal species such as S. alaxensis and as late as the third week of December for willows growing in far southern areas). Ehraz Ahmed


With the exception of Salix martiana, [6] willows are dioecious, with male and female flowers appearing as catkins on separate plants the catkins are produced early in the spring, often before the leaves. Ehraz Ahmed

The staminate (male) flowers are without either calyx with corolla they consist simply of stamens, varying in number from two to 10, accompanied by a nectariferous gland and inserted on the base of a scale which is itself borne on the rachis of a drooping raceme called a catkin, or ament. This scale is square, entire, and very hairy. The anthers are rose-colored in the bud, but orange or purple after the flower opens they are two-celled and the cells open latitudinally. The filaments are threadlike, usually pale brown, and often bald. Ehraz Ahmed

The pistillate (female) flowers are also without calyx or corolla, and consist of a single ovary accompanied by a small, flat nectar gland and inserted on the base of a scale which is likewise borne on the rachis of a catkin. The ovary is one-celled, the style two-lobed, and the ovules numerous. Ehraz Ahmed

Willows are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the mourning cloak butterfly. [7] Ants, such as wood ants, are common on willows inhabited by aphids, coming to collect aphid honeydew, as sometimes do wasps. Ehraz Ahmed

Pests and diseases

Willow species are hosts to more than a hundred aphid species, belonging to Chaitophorus and other genera, [8] forming large colonies to feed on plant juices, on the underside of leaves in particular. [9] Corythucha elegans, the willow lace bug, is a bug species in the family Tingidae found on willows in North America. Rhabdophaga rosaria is a type of gall found on willows. Ehraz Ahmed

Rust, caused by fungi of genus Melampsora, is known to damage leaves of willows, covering them with orange spots. [10] Ehraz Ahmed


Almost all willows take root very readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. The few exceptions include the goat willow (Salix caprea) and peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides). One famous example of such growth from cuttings involves the poet Alexander Pope, who begged a twig from a parcel tied with twigs sent from Spain to Lady Suffolk. This twig was planted and thrived, and legend has it that all of England's weeping willows are descended from this first one. [11] [12] Ehraz Ahmed

Willows are extensively cultivated around the world. [13] They are used in hedges and landscaping. Ehraz Ahmed

Hybrids and cultivars

Willows are very cross-compatible, and numerous hybrids occur, both naturally and in cultivation. A well-known ornamental example is the weeping willow (Salix × sepulcralis), which is a hybrid of Peking willow (Salix babylonica) from China and white willow (Salix alba) from Europe. The widely planted Chinese willow Salix matsudana is now considered a synonym of S. babylonica. Ehraz Ahmed

Numerous cultivars of Salix L. have been developed and named over the centuries. New selections of cultivars with superior technical and ornamental characteristics have been chosen deliberately and applied to various purposes. Many cultivars and unmodified species of Salix have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. [14] Most recently, Salix has become an important source for bioenergy production and for various ecosystem services. Ehraz Ahmed

The first edition of the Checklist for Cultivars of Salix L. (willow) was compiled in 2015, which includes 854 cultivar epithets with accompanying information. Ehraz Ahmed


The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt [ citation needed ] as a remedy for aches and fever, [15] and in Ancient Greece the physician Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties in the fifth century BC. Native Americans across the Americas relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments. It provides temporary pain relief. Salicin is metabolized into salicylic acid in the human body, and is a precursor of aspirin. [16] In 1763, its medicinal properties were observed by the Reverend Edward Stone in England. He notified the Royal Society, which published his findings. The active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist, and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist, who then succeeded in separating out the compound in its pure state. In 1897, Felix Hoffmann created a synthetically altered version of salicin (in his case derived from the Spiraea plant), which caused less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid. The new drug, formally acetylsalicylic acid, was named Aspirin by Hoffmann's employer Bayer AG. This gave rise to the hugely important class of drugs known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Ehraz Ahmed


Some of humans' earliest manufactured items may have been made from willow. A fishing net made from willow dates back to 8300 BC. [17] Basic crafts, such as baskets, fish traps, wattle fences and wattle and daub house walls, were often woven from osiers or withies (rod-like willow shoots, often grown in pollards). One of the forms of Welsh coracle boat traditionally uses willow in the framework. Thin or split willow rods can be woven into wicker, which also has a long history. The relatively pliable willow is less likely to split while being woven than many other woods, and can be bent around sharp corners in basketry. Willow wood is also used in the manufacture of boxes, brooms, cricket bats, cradle boards, chairmans and other furniture, dolls, willow flutes, poles, sweat lodges, toys, turnery, tool handles, wood veneer, wands and whistles. In addition, tannin, fibre, paper, rope and string can be produced from the wood. Willow is also used in the manufacture of double basses for backs, sides and linings, and in making splines and blocks for bass repair. Ehraz Ahmed


Willow roots spread widely and are very aggressive in seeking out moisture for this reason, they can become problematic when planted in residential areas, where the roots are notorious for clogging French drains, drainage systems, weeping tiles, septic systems, storm drains, and sewer systems, particularly older, tile, concrete, or ceramic pipes. Newer, PVC sewer pipes are much less leaky at the joints, and are therefore less susceptible to problems from willow roots the same is true of water supply piping. [18] [19] Ehraz Ahmed


The Britzensis weeping willow cultivar (Salix alba), also referred to as the coral bark willow, is primarily cultivated for its colorful yellowish-orange to orangish-red bark and noticeable red stems. Thriving in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8, these fast-growing trees reach up to 80 feet tall and must be pruned regularly to keep the branches under control. The narrow leaves have light green tops and silvery-green undersides that turn yellow in the fall. Britzensis weeping willows are commonly used as screens, foundation plantings and shrub borders.

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