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12 Species of Willow Trees and Shrubs

Members of the Genus Salix

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If you've got an area with moist soil, you may want to consider one of the Salix (willow) species, which are part of the Salicaceae family. These water-loving trees and shrubs are also sometimes known as sallows and osiers, depending on the species.

Most species feature leaves shaped like a lance, though some have leaves that are round or oval-shaped. Willows are dioecious and the male and female plants produce catkins during spring. You will need to plant one of each if you plan on harvesting any capsules for propagation. With most species, you can easily root cuttings for new plants.

As a rule, it's wise to be cautious when planting willows near any sewers, water pipes or any other water features. Since they love moisture so much, the roots will naturally gravitate towards these areas and potentially cause problems.

Many cultures have used willow bark for pain relief. There is a compound in willow bark called salicin. In the 1800s scientists were able to pinpoint this compound in the bark. This lead to the development of aspirin. Salicylic acid, a chemical based on salicin, is also used for treating acne.

Willow branches are commonly used in basketry and weaving. The wood is flexible enough to be bent once it has been soaked in water. The branches can also be used on a live tree or shrub to create a living fence or sculpture. Approach grafting can be used to speed the process along.

Additionally, some willows will develop a diamond pattern on their their branches that are usually caused by a fungal infection, inspiring the name "diamond willow". This type of wood is favored by woodcarvers due to its striking shape. Diamond willow branches can be used to make walking and hiking sticks, as well as decorative furniture.

1. Bebb Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix bebbiana
  • Other Common Names: Beaked willow, Bebb's willow, gray willow, diamond willow, long-beaked willow
  • Native to: Northern United States and Canada
  • USDA Zones: Hardy to Zone 3
  • Height: 10-30' tall

Bebb willow is the most commonly used diamond willow and features the namesake patterns inside its stems, which will be highlighted once carved. This species can be drought tolerant if needed once it has been established.

2. Corkscrew Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa'
  • Other Common Names: Curly willow, globe willow, dragon's claw, twisted twig willow, Pekin willow, Hankow willow
  • Native to: Northeastern China
  • USDA Zones: 4-8
  • Height: 20-40' tall

This variety is favored due to its twisting branches that can add winter interest. The corkscrew willow is also used as an accent in floral arrangements and as bonsai. This species is closely related to the weeping willow and some botanists consider it to be the same tree. Other cultivars include 'Golden Curls' and 'Scarlet Curls'.

The corkscrew willow is at least somewhat drought tolerant after establishment, so it is easier to work this variety into any location.

3. Coyote Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix exigua or Salix interior
  • Other Common Names: Sandbar willow, narrowleaf willow, dusky willow, gray willow
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: 2-9
  • Height: 6-15' tall

Some put the coyote willow as Salix exigua and the sandbar willow as Salix interior. This shrub will survive drought and floods.

4. Dappled Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki'
  • Other Common Names: Variegated willow, Nishiki willow, Japanese dappled willow, Japanese variegated willow, tricolor willow
  • Native to: Russia, Japan, Korea, northeastern China
  • USDA Zones: 4-9
  • Height: 4-6' tall

This is my favorite type of willow. It works well as a specimen plant since the leaves are variegated, featuring shades of pink, green and white. The pink comes when the leaf first appears and will fade to just green and white as it matures. As an added bonus, the branches will turn red in the winter.

This willow may also be sold under the variety name of ‘Albomaculata’. Another willow with similar markings is Salix integra 'Flamingo'.

5. Goat Willow

  • Latin Name:Salix caprea
  • Other Common Names: Pussy willow, great sallow, European pussy willow, French pussy willow
  • Native to: Western and central Asia, Europe
  • USDA Zones: 4-8
  • Height: 12-25' tall

The name "pussy willow" is also used for this species sometimes, which is often grown for the puffy catkins.

The goat willow is one of a few willow species that does not propagate easily from cuttings, so both a male and female plant will be needed for proper pollination.

6. Peach-Leaf Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix amygdaloides
  • Other Common Names: Almond willow, Wright willow
  • Native to: United States and southern Canada
  • USDA Zones: 3-5
  • Height: 30-50' tall

As you can probably guess from the common name, the leaves on this willow are a lot like peach tree leaves. Like the goat willow, propagation is done by seeds. Cuttings will not root easily, if at all.

7. Purple Osier Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix purpurea
  • Other Common Names: Basket willow, Alaska blue willow, purple willow, blue Arctic willow, purpleosier willow
  • Native to: Western Asia, North Africa and Europe
  • USDA Zones: 3-7
  • Height: 8-10' tall
The purple osier willow is a shrub with juvenile stems that are purple and leaves that are blue-green. It can handle some shade and dry soil.

8. Pussy Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix discolor
  • Other Common Names: American pussy willow, glaucous willow, large pussy willow, American willow
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: 4-8
  • Height: 2-25' tall depending on variety

This is the American species that falls under the common name pussy willow, along with the goat willow. The pussy willow is commonly grown for use by the floral design industry.

9. Scouler's Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix scouleriana
  • Other Common Names: Scouler willow, black willow, fire willow, mountain willow, nuttall willow, mountain pussy willow, upland willow/li>
  • Native to: Western North America
  • USDA Zones: Unknown
  • Height: Up to 30' tall, sometimes taller

Scouler's willow is able to grow in drier conditions than many willows, though not quite to the level of being completely drought tolerant. This is another diamond willow and was discovered by John Scouler.

10. Weeping Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix babylonica
  • Native to: Northern China
  • USDA Zones: 4-9a. 10 if watered consistently
  • Height: 35-50' tall
  • Weeping willow growing profile

This is one of the most common weeping trees available and works well to grace a pond or lake. The branches will sway delightfully in the breeze, though stronger winds might break off some of the stems and litter the ground. Plan on replacing it in approximately 30 years.

11. White Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix alba
  • Native to: Western and central Asia, Europe
  • USDA Zones: 2-9
  • Height: 50-100' tall

The white willow may sometimes be infected by fungi and have the diamond willow characteristic. The name comes from the fact that the leaves are white underneath.

12. Yellow Willow

  • Latin Name: Salix lutea. Synonyms include Salix rigida var. watsonii, Salix cordata var. lutea, Salix cordata var. watsonii and Salix cordata var. platyphylla.
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: Unknown
  • Height: Can be over 20' tall

Moose, elk, sheep and beavers like to eat the yellow willow. This plant can be used to repair areas that have had floods, erosion or other problems. It reproduces easily both through cuttings and seeds.

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