15 Major Types Of Willow Trees And How To Identify Them


Willow trees have long been popular for their gracefully draped branches and elegant leaves that tremble and flutter in the breeze. Willows, also called sallows and osiers, form the genus Salix, are around 400 species 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. All willows are moisture-loving plants that will do well in wet, boggy conditions, and some are adaptable enough to also do well in dry soils.

Other than holding back the soil and preventing soil erosion, Willows can also be used to create living fences or even sculptures, and the branches are commonly used in basketry and weaving since the wood is flexible enough to be bent once it has been soaked in water. Here is a description of the common type of willow, their uses and native environments.

1. Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica)

The weeping willow is perhaps the most well-known of all landscape trees with a weeping habit. They are commonly used to grace the edges a pond or lake, but it can also be used as a landscape specimen tree in larger yards. Also, Weeping willow trees are famed for their dramatic, elegant appearance. Their long, graceful branches “weep” into an arch, creating a round canopy that grazes the ground gently. Their narrow leaves are light green on top, with silvery undersides until they turn yellow in autumn. The bark is rough, gray, and ridged. Yellow flowers bloom in late winter or spring. Weeping willow trees grow to be 30-50 feet tall, with a spread of roughly 30-40 feet.

  • Native Area: Northern China
  • USDA Growing Zones:6 to 9
  • Height: 30 to 50 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun

2. Bebb Willow (Salix Bebbiana)

This plant is typically a large, fast-growing, multiple-stemmed shrub or small, shrubby tree capable of forming dense, colonial thickets. It can be found in loose, saturated soils such as that on riverbanks, lakesides, swamps, marshes, and bogs. It is capable of tolerating heavy clay and rocky soils, making it highly adaptable and durable. It is a dominant species in many marshland areas in its native range.

The leaves are dull blue-green in color and smooth in texture when mature; new leaves are coated in downy hairs. The leaves are up to 5 in long and 1.5 in wide. Like other willows, this plant is dioecious, with male and female plants producing small, dangling catkins.

Salix bebbiana is a species of willow indigenous to Canada and the northern United States, from Alaska and Yukon south to California and Arizona and northeast to Newfoundland and New England. Common names include beaked willowlong-beaked willowgray willow, and Bebb’s willow.

  • Native Area: Northern half of North America
  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 4
  • Height: 10 to 30 feets
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to shade

Also Read: Different Types of Weeping Trees

3. White Willow (Salix Alba)

Salix alba, commonly referred to as the white willow is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree growing up to 10–30 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter and an irregular, often-leaning crown. The name derives from the white tone to the undersides of the leaves. The bark is grey-brown, and deeply fissured in older trees. The shoots in the typical species are grey-brown to green-brown. The leaves are paler than most other willows, due to a covering of very fine, silky white hairs, in particular on the underside; they are 5–10 cm long and 0.5–1.5 cm wide.

White willows are fast-growing, but relatively short-lived, it is native to Europe, western and central Asia. Like all willows, Salix alba is usually to be found in wet or poorly-drained soil at the edge of pools, lakes or rivers. Its wide-spreading roots take up moisture from a large surrounding area.

  • Native Area: Western and central Asia, Europe
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 50 to 100 feet
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun to part shade

4. Corkscrew Willow (Salix Matsudana)

Also known as curly willow or tortured willow, corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortusa’) is easy to identify by its long, graceful leaves and curly, contorted branches, which become especially noticeable during the winter. Unfortunately, although corkscrew willow is a fast-growing tree, it isn’t long lived and tends to be susceptible to breakage and insect problems.The Corkscrew Willow Tree is often 30 feet tall, while some reach up to 40 feet.

This type of willow grows upright and has gray-brown bark, smooth with diamond shaped lenticels in youth, rough and shallowly fissured when mature. Twisted, contorted twigs start slender, olive-green when young and mature to gray-brown. Like the twigs, leaves are often twisted. Foliage is simple, alternate, narrow, oval shaped, and finely serrated. Each leaf is shiny green above and off-white beneath. Fuzzy pale yellow-green flowers, called “catkins,” appear in early spring with the leaves. Each catkin is about one inch long. As these blooms mature, fruit appears in the form of one-inch clusters, small light brown fuzzy capsules that contain many small fuzzy seeds. These fruits ripen in late spring. Leaves become yellow in fall.

  • Native Area: Northeastern China
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 20 to 50 feet
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun to part shade

Also Read: Different Types of Maple Trees

5. Goat Willow (Salix Caprea)

Salix caprea, also referred to as goat willowpussy willow or great sallow, is a common small species of willow tree found in ditches, reedbeds and wet woodland, and on urban waste ground. It is one of the UK’s commonest willows and is known for the fluffy, silver-grey, male catkins – or ‘pussy willows’ – that appear in January and turn bright yellow in March.

The Goat willow is a small, scrub-forming tree, reaching a height of 8–10 m (26–33 ft), rarely to 13 m. It has broad, round leaves, with bent, pointy tips and thick, silky hairs on their undersides. The leaves are 3–12 cm long and from 2–8 cm wide, broader than most other willows. The flowers are soft silky, and silvery 3-7-cm-long catkins are produced in early spring before the new leaves appear; the male and female catkins are on different plants (dioecious). Its male catkins are silver-grey, roundish and turn yellow when ripe; its female catkins are green. Pussy willow or great sallow is native to Europe and western and central Asia.

  • Native Area: Europe, western and central Asia
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
  • Height: 2 to 25 feet tall, depending on the variety
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

6. Narrowleaf Willow (Salix Exigua)

Salix exigua also referred to as (sandbar willownarrowleaf willow, or coyote willow is a deciduous shrub reaching 4–7 metres (13–23 ft) in height, spreading by basal shoots to form dense clonal colonies. The leaves are narrow lanceolate, 4–12 centimetres (1.6–4.7 in) long and 2–10 millimetres (0.079–0.394 in) broad, green, to grayish with silky white hairs at least when young; the margin is entire or with a few irregular, widely spaced small teeth. The flowers are produced in catkins in late spring, after the leaves appear. It is dioecious, with staminate and pistillate catkins on separate plants, the male catkins up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in) long, the female catkins up to 8 centimetres (3.1 in) long. The fruit is a cluster of capsules, each containing numerous minute seeds embedded in shiny white silk.

This type of willow is native to most of North America except for the southeast and far north, occurring from Alaska east to New Brunswick, and south to northern Mexico. It is considered a threatened species in Massachusetts while in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Hampshire it is considered endangered.

  • Native Area: all of North America, Alaska to New Brunswick
  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
  • Height: 6 to 15 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

7. Dappled Willow (Salix Integra)

Dappled willow trees have branches that arch delicately, set off with oblong, narrow variegated leaves. Their colors change with the seasons. The leaves are pink-tinged in the spring and give way to whitish-green growth in summer, creating an elegant dappled appearance. Colors are brightest when the trees are planted in direct sunlight. Pruning encourages new growth with more vivid color.

In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and drop, revealing coral-red stems by winter. Dappled willows grow at a fast rate of 2-3 feet per year, achieving their maximum growth of 8-10 feet in just a few seasons. Their maximum width is also 8-10 feet, giving them a nice rounded shape that works extremely well as a privacy hedge when planted in a row. The dappled willow is native to Japan and Korea where it frequently grows near water, like along streams and in marshes. Its shoots were used in yesteryear for basket making.

  • Native Area: Russia, Japan, Korea, northeastern China
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 4 to 6 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

8. Peach-Leaf Willow (Salix Amygdaloides)

Salix amygdaloides, also referred to as peachleaf willow, is a fast-growing deciduous small to medium tree with weeping branches. It is referred to as “peachleaf willow” because the leaves are pointed, just like those of peach trees.

This type of willow grows quickly but does not live to old age. It can be used to quickly fill bare areas and to control erosion. In natural settings, it can often be found growing alongside cottonwood trees. Peach-Leaf willow is native to southern Canada and the United States, from Quebec west to western British Columbia, southeast to eastern Kentucky, and southwest and west to Arizona and Nevada, respectively.

Also Read: Different Types of Arborvitae Tree Varieties

9. Purple Osier Willow (Salix Purpurea)

Salix purpurea, the purple willow purpleosier willow or purple osier is a deciduous shrub growing to 1–3 m (rarely to 5 m) tall, with purple-brown to yellow-brown shoots, turning pale grey on old stems. The leaves are 2–8 cm (rarely to 12 cm) long and 0.3–1 cm (rarely 2 cm) wide; they are dark green above, glaucous green below, and unusually for a willow, are often arranged in opposite pairs rather than alternate. The flowers are small catkins 1.5-4.5 cm long, produced in early spring; they are often purple or red in color, whence the name of the species (other willows mostly have whitish, yellow or green catkins).

Purple osier willow may require cutting back to the ground every three to five years in order to keep the plant vigorous and maintain the proper ornamental shape. It is normally planted in order to control erosion along streams and lakes. It can also be planted as a hedge. The attractive flowers and stems can be used in crafts. Purple Osier Willow is native to most of Europe and western Asia north to the British Isles, Poland, and the Baltic States.

  • Native Area: Western Asia, North Africa, and Europe
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 8 to 15 feet
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun

10. Crack Willow (Salix Fragilis)

Salix fragilis, commonly referred to as crack willow or brittle willow, is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree, which grows rapidly to 10–20 m (33–66 ft) (rarely to 29 m (95 ft)) tall, with a trunk up to 1 m (3.3 ft) diameter, often multi-trunked, and an irregular, often leaning crown. The bark is dark grey-brown, coarsely fissured in older trees. The lanceolate leaves are bright green, 9–15 cm long and 1.5–3 cm wide, with a finely serrated margin; they are very finely hairy at first in spring, but soon become hairless.

The flowers are produced in catkins in early spring, and pollinated by insects. They are dioecious, with male and female catkins on separate trees; the male catkins are 4–6 cm long, the female catkins are also 4–6 cm long, with the individual flowers having either one or two nectarines. In late spring fruit capsules release numerous small cotton-tufted seeds. They are easily distributed by wind and moving water, and germinate immediately after soil contact.

The crack willow is hard to tell apart from the white willow. Mature trees grow to 25m. The bark is dark brown and develops deep fissures with age, and twigs are slender, flexible, shiny and yellow-brown. The oval leaves are similar to those of the white willow, being long and slender, dark green above and light green below. However the leaves of the crack willow are shorter than those of the white willow, and they do not have a covering of fine, silky white hairs on the underside.

This type of willow is native to Europe and Western Asia. It is native to riparian habitats, usually found growing beside rivers and streams, and in marshes and water meadow channels.

  • Native Area: Western Asia and Europe
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 15 to 66 feet
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun

Also Read: Different Types of Dogwood Trees And Shrubs

11. Scouler’s Willow (Salix Scouleriana)

Salix scouleriana also referred to as (Scouler’s willow) is a deciduous shrub or small tree, depending on the environment, usually with multiple stems that reach 2 to 7 m in height in dry, cold, high elevations, and other difficult environments, and 10 to 20 m in favorable sites. The stems are straight and support few branches generally resulting in narrow crowns. The root system is fibrous, deep, and widespread. The thick sapwood is nearly white, and heartwood is light brown tinged with red. Stem bark is thin, gray or dark brown, with broad, flat ridges. Twigs are stout and whitish-green. The leaves are oblanceolate to elliptic, 5–12.5 cm long, mostly short-pointed at the apex and tapered toward the base, with entire to sparsely wavy-toothed margins. They are dark-green and nearly hairless above, and white- or grayish-hairy below.

This type of willow is native to western North America, from south central Alaska east to western Northwest Territory, central Manitoba, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, and south through the Rocky Mountains to Coahuila, and along the coast through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada in California. Other names occasionally used include fire willow, Nuttall willow, mountain willow, and black willow.

  • Native Area: Western North America
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 10-20 m
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun

12. Almond Willow (Salix Triandra)

Salix triandra, also referred to as almond willow, almond-leaved willow or black maul willow, is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 10 m (33 ft) tall, usually multi-stemmed, with an irregular, often leaning crown. Young bark is smooth grey-brown, becoming scaly on older stems with large scales exfoliating (like a plane tree) to leave orange-brown patches. The leaves are broad, lanceolate, 4–11 cm long and 1–3 cm wide, with a serrated margin; they are dull dark green above and green to glaucous-green below, with a 1–2-cm petiole with two conspicuous basal stipules.

The flowers are produced in catkins in early spring at the same time as the new leaves, and pollinated by insects. They are dioecious, with male and female catkins on separate trees; the male catkins are 2.5–8 cm long, the female catkins 2–4 cm long. The male flowers have three stamens, a useful identification feature with most other willows having two or five stamens.

Almond willow is native to Europe and Western and Central Asia. It is found from south-eastern England east to Lake Baikal, and south to Spain and the Mediterranean east to the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains. It usually grows in riparian habitats, on river and stream banks, and in wetlands.

  • Native Area: Europe, Western and Central Asia
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Height: 10-33 ft
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun

13. Yellow Willow (Salix Lutea)

Salix lutea is a species of willow known by the common name yellow willow is a shrub that grows up to 7 m tall, sometimes forming colonial thickets or becoming erect and treelike. The lance-shaped leaves may grow over 11 cm long and may have smooth, lightly serrated, wavy, or gland-studded edges. The inflorescence is a catkin of flowers up to 4 or 5 cm long, stout to slender in shape.

Yellow willow is native to North America, including central Canada and parts of the western and central United States, with the exception of the Great Basin. It can be found in moist and wet habitat types, such as riverbanks, meadows, and gullies.

  • Native Area: North America, from central Canada to western and central U.S.
  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
  • Height: Can be over 20 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure:Full sun

Further References

  1. Facts About Willow Trees: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willow
  2. Different Types of Willow Trees: https://www.homestratosphere.com/types-of-willow-trees/
  3. Willow Trees and Shrubs: https://leafyplace.com/types-of-willow-trees/
  4. Types of Willow Trees: https://farmfoodfamily.com/types-of-willow-trees/
  5. Willow Trees To Enhance Your Yard: https://worstroom.com/types-of-willow-trees/