Plant Fact Sheets

RANGE MAP


WILLOWS

(Salix spp.)
 

Classification and Range

Willows belong to a large family of plants, Salicaceae, which includes 350 species found nearly worldwide, but primarily in northern temperate and arctic regions. The genus Salix consists primarily of small trees and shrubs which grow in wet soils. 33 species in the Salix genus are native to Alaska. In Alaska, willows are distributed almost throughout the entire state. Willow shrubs grow even beyond treeline in northern Alaska. Some of the more common and distinctive willows in Alaska include Sitka (Salix sitchensis) and Scouler willows (Salix scouleriana) in the southeast and feltleaf (Salix alaxensis), diamondleaf (Salix planifolia Pursh ssp. pulchra) and Bebb willows (Salix bebbiana) in central Alaska.

Habitat

In Alaska, willows are distributed almost throughout the entire state. Willow shrubs grow even beyond treeline in northern Alaska. Some of the more common and distinctive willows in Alaska include Sitka (Salix sitchensis) and Scouler willows (Salix scouleriana) in the southeast and feltleaf (Salix alaxensis), diamondleaf (Salix planifolia Pursh ssp. pulchra) and Bebb willows (Salix bebbiana) in central Alaska.

Physical Characteristics

Willows are deciduous shrubs with slender, wiry twigs and leaves that are generally long and narrow. Willow flowers are borne in narrow catkins between one and three inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) long which resemble upright tassels.

Willows are dioecious, which means that all the male-flowered catkins (stalk with many flowers) grow on one plant and the female-flowered on another.

Conservation Connection

Willows grow well in wet places or areas that receive seasonal flooding. Because of this they play an important role erosion control along streams. Removal of willow from streamsides has caused serious erosion and silt runoff that has deteriorated water quality and the health of aquatic life.

 

Willows Fascinating Facts

  • Willows contain a bitter-tasting glucoside called Salicin that occurs in the sap of young twigs. This was the origin of salicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin!
  • Willow is used extensively for basketry and fuel. One species, the white willow, (Salix alba var. coerlea) is the only acceptable wood used for cricket bats in England!
  • Willow species hybridize with each other more than any other genus. This is not uncommon in plants that naturally occur in areas of regular disturbance such as flooding and glaciation. This hybridization causes a certain amount of hybrid vigor which allows them to be more resilient and adapt more readily to constantly changing environments.
 
 
 
 

©2014 WPZ is a registered 501(c)(3) non profit