Salix - Common Osier, Permanent Wave Tree, Purple Osier, Pussy Willow, Weeping Willow, Willow
DESCRIPTION: Salix is the botanical name for a group of deciduous (leaf-losing) trees and shrubs, which are mostly hardy. They are found wild throughout Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and North America; a few are found in the Southern Hemisphere. Some grow naturally in the arctic and alpine regions. The common name for this group and also the old Latin name is, Willow. Most Willows grow rapidly and are fairly short-lived. Their young stems are flexible and strong, but the old branches are soft and brittle and liable to storm damage. Willows may form large bushes, prostrate shrubs, trees of medium height with the typical tree outline, and trees with hanging branches; there are all sorts of intermediates. The leaves of most Willows are long, slender and oblong or lance-shaped. They are arranged alternately on the branches and rarely opposite. They are simple leaves with smooth or toothed edges. There are usually two leaf-like appendages (stipules) at the bases of the leaves; these are very small and may fall early, or they may be quite a bit larger and stay on the base of the leafstalks for most of the summer. Willow flowers are borne in early spring, either before or after the leaves. Male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are produced on separate trees. Both types are borne in catkins (a long cluster of flowers), which are carried erectly on the branch, unlike those of the closely related Poplar trees (See, Populus), which are in drooping catkins. The male flowers are more noticeable than the female flowers, the former being a yellow color when mature, though some kinds are reddish. The female flowers are ordinarily green or gray-green. Very rarely are male or female flowers produced on the same tree. Seeds ripen during May and June and are whitish colored; they are produced sparingly in cottony fiber. Willows are very easy to grow and love moist soil in full sun. They are not harmed on ground that tends to collect water. S. babylonica, the Weeping Willow, grows from 40 to 50 feet high. It has graceful, long, thin branches covered in delicate leaves, which grow from 3 to 6 inches long. They are smooth, dark green above and paler green beneath. The edges are finely and evenly serrated. This tree is a native of China and is widely used as a shade and ornamental tree. An interesting tree called the Permanent Wave Tree is S. Matsudana var. tortuosa. This tree has spiraling twisted branches and twigs; it grows 30 feet or so. A popular shrub or tree is the Pussy Willow. This name is given to more than one kind of Salix; however, S. discolor is the true Pussy Willow. In the spring it produces charming, silky soft male catkins. It is especially favored for cutting for indoor decoration. For early bloom inside, branches of these plants may be cut and stood in containers of water in a sunny window anytime after the middle of January. Soon, the "pussies" develop and make an attractive display for a considerable time. Many of the name varieties of Willows are grown in other countries, less in the U.S., for the purpose of basket making.
POTTING: Willows can live in different types of soil. The best is moist, loam soil. They flourish in damp places such as on the banks of lakes and streams. When Willows are grown for decoration, they should be spaced widely, especially those with weeping branches; they should not be crowded when they reach maturity. Willows that form shrubs may be placed closely together. Willows that form bushes can be cut down to the ground in the spring; they will renew themselves by the growth of new shoots from their bases. Willow trees need to be pruned when they are young. The goal is to keep the lower portion of the trunk free from unwanted branches and maintain one central leading shoot.
PROPAGATION: The easiest way to increase Willows is by cuttings. These are made of 9- to 12-inch pieces of ripened wood, though cuttings 12 feet or more may be used. Cuttings are done from the time the leaves fall until late winter. Plant the bush kinds 6 inches apart, in rows 12 inches from each other. The tree kinds are set 12 inches apart, in rows 15 to 18 inches apart. They are set so deep that only the upper 3 inches is showing above the ground. In England, the Cricket-bat Willow, S. alba var. calva, is often raised from pole-like cuttings, 12 feet in length, planted where they are to grow. Willow cuttings root quickly and grow very fast the first year; tree kinds may form shoots 6 to 12 feet long. Some of the dwarf kinds may be increased by division. Seeds may also be planted, but they must be sown in moist soil as soon as they are ripe. They should sprout within a few days. Each young tree should be allowed only one main shoot. All Willows not raised in their permanent positions should be moved there at the end of the first season. The bush types may be cut back to within a bud or two of the base when transplanted. If the tree types have only produced a weak shoot, they may also be cut back to encourage the production of a strong stem the following year.
VARIETIES: Willow Trees - S. babylonica (Weeping Willow); S. blanda (Wisconsin Weeping Willow); S. elegantissima (Thurlow Weeping Willow); S. Matsudana pendula; S. alba (Golden Weeping Willow); S. fragilis (Crack Willow); S. alba (White Willow); S. pentandra (Bay-leaved Willow); S. nigra (Black Willow); S. Scouleriana; S. Matsudana var. tortuosa (Permanent Wave Tree).
Pussy Willows - S. discolor (Pussy Willow); S. Caprea (Goat Willow or Sallow); S. cinerea (Gray Willow); S. Medemii; S. alba var. vitellina; S. alba var. chermesina;
Dwarf Willows - S. Bockii; S. herbacea; S. repens; S. lanata (Woolly Willow); S. purpurea var. nana (Dwarf Blueleaf Arctic Willow).
Basket Willows - S. amygdalina (Almond-leaved Willow); S. purpurea (Purple Osier); S. viminalis (Common Osier)
Back to our botanical home page.