Willows

White Willow Bay Willow Weeping Willow Grey Willow

What are they?

Willows are woody members of the Salicaceae - a family that includes willows and poplars. Willows range from stately trees growing over 30m in height to creeping plants not much above knee height (in the high Arctic and on mountains tops elsewhere, there are species that hug the ground like a carpet). These are wind-pollinated plants with male and female flowers carried in catkins on separate plants, so each plant will be either male or female. Taller species tend to have elongate catkins while the shrubby sallows often have more rounded catkins which are known as 'pussy willow' - a name that is ascribed loosely to several species.

Where are they found?

Most species of willow favoue wet ground and naturally grow along water courses and in rover floodplains. Ornamental species may be planted in a range of municipal plantings in parks, along roadsides and in hedgerows.

Identification

Some willows are distinct and readily identifiable at all times, but many of the hybrids and their parents can be difficult to tell apart without several visits to gather details of buds, flowers and leaves. For most willows, identification is reached by a combination of features. Leaves are very important in their overall length and shape, presence or absence of hairs and details of the leaf margin such as presence or absence of teeth and whether the margin is rolled underneath. Small (often tiny), leafy outgrowths at the base of the leaf stalk called stipules can be important on young growths, though they sometimes fall off quite early in the season so are only useful when present. If flowering, the number of stamens can be useful on male plants. Reference is made below to 'striae' under the bark. These are short, raised lines or ridges which can be found on the inner wood by peeling back a small section of bark on two-year-old wood.



Bay Willow      Salix pentandra

Possibly native in The Fens but also planted in damp woodland eslewhere; rare in our region. Flowers May to June with most plants being male. A large shrub or small tree to 20m with a broadly spreading crown. Winter twigs hairless, glossy, olive- to reddish-brown. Leaves distinctive, 5-12cm in length, glossy dark green above, paler below broadly rounded at the base; leaf stalk with small glands. Leaf stipules small but broadly rounded. Catkins relatively broad and stout, each male flower with 5-8 stamens. Bark craggy.

Bay Willow Bay Willow Bay Willow Bay Willow
Male flowers
Leaves
Leaf
Leaf margin
Bay Willow Bay Willow Bay Willow Bay Willow
Leaf stipule
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Shiny-leaved Willow      Salix x meyeriana

The hybrid between Bay and Hybrid Crack Willows. Rare with a handful of records of planted specimens. Flowers April to May. A large shrub or small tree to 14m with a spreading crown. Winter twigs glossy, hairless, blackish- to reddish-brown. Leaves 5-14cm in length, glossy dark green above, paler below, rounded at the base and with a long acuminate apex; leaf stalk with small glands. Leaf stipules small but broadly rounded.

Shiny-leaved Willow Shiny-leaved Willow Shiny-leaved Willow
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf stipule


Hybrid Crack Willow      Salix x fragilis

Probably always introduced. Widespread and common with larger trees most often seen as a pollarded specimens along rivers, channels and drainage dykes. Flowers April to May. A large tree to 29m. Winter twigs hairless, slightly glossy, olive- to reddish-brown or slightly yellowish. Twigs brittle and easily snapped off, breaking away cleanly. Leaves 7-15cm in length, glossy green above, paler, slightly glaucous below and tapered at the base; hairy at first but the hairs soon dropping. Leaf stipules very small, sharply pointed but soon falling. Catkins relatively long and narrow, each male flower with 2-3 stamens. Bark craggy and deeply fissured. A rather variable plant that only recently has been determined to be a hybrid between the 'true' Crack Willow (Salix euxina) of the Black Sea region and our native White Willow. Salix euxina may occur in East Anglia in wetland plantings but this is currently unclear.

Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow
Male flowers
Female flowers
Leaves
Leaves
Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow Hybrid Crack Willow
Leaf underside
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Broad-leaved Crack Willow      Salix x fragilis var. furcata

Probably always introduced. Rare with a few recent records from Norfolk but perhaps unrecognised in the past and mistaken for other willows. Flowers April to May. A large tree to 18m. Winter twigs hairless, slightly glossy, olive-brown; young spring growths hairy at first. Twigs brittle and easily snapped off, breaking away cleanly. Leaves 9-15cm in length and up to 4cm in width, broader than those of Hybrid Crack Willow; glossy dark green above, much paler and glaucous below and abruptly tapered at the tip, not long drawn out. Leaf stipules small, sharply pointed but soon falling. Catkins always male and often forked. Bark craggy and deeply fissured.

Broad-leaved Crack Willow Broad-leaved Crack Willow Broad-leaved Crack Willow
Leaves
Leaf
Leaf underside
Broad-leaved Crack Willow Broad-leaved Crack Willow
Winter twig
Bark


Weeping Crack Willow      Salix x pendulina

Of garden origin and only occurring where planted. There appears to be a handful of old records of this hybrid (a cross between Hybrid Crack Willow and Weeping Willow) in the region but modern plantings seem mostly (always?) to be of the true weeping willow (see below). Flowers April with most plants being female. A tree to 18m with clearly pendulous branches. Winter twigs hairless, glossy, olive-brown with narrow, shiny brown buds. Twigs brittle and easily snapped off, breaking away cleanly. Leaves 10-12cm in length, glossy green above, paler, slightly glaucous below and tapered at the base; hairy at first but the hairs soon dropping. Leaf stipules very small, sharply pointed but soon falling. Catkins relatively long and narrow. Bark craggy and fissured.

Weeping Crack Willow Weeping Crack Willow Weeping Crack Willow Weeping Crack Willow
Habit
Female flowers
Winter twig
Winter twig
Weeping Crack Willow Weeping Crack Willow
Seedhead
Bark


White Willow      Salix alba

Native. The most common and widespread large willow throughout the region. Flowers April to May. A large tree to over 30m. Winter twigs hairless, slightly glossy, olive- to reddish-brown or slightly yellowish. Twigs pliant, not easily snapped off, olive-brown to greenish-brown; current year's growth densely hairy. Leaves 5-11cm in length, becoming glossy green above, paler, slightly glaucous below and tapered at the base; silver-grey with dense hairs at first with the hairs persistent in some forms but eventually dropping in others. Leaf stipules very small, sharply pointed but soon falling. Catkins relatively long and narrow, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark craggy and deeply fissured. A very variable plant with populations being a mixture of self-sown individuals and plantings of selected clones. The Cricket-bat Willow (var. caerulea) with its attractive, blue-white leaves is a selected clone from naturally occurring plants and is widely planted in our region. Other distinct, ornamental forms include the variety vitellina, which has bright orange or red twigs which are especially noticeable in the winter.

White Willow White Willow White Willow White Willow
Habit
Habit
variety vitellina
Leaves
White Willow White Willow White Willow White Willow
Leaves
Leaf hairs
Winter twig
Bark


Weeping Willow      Salix x sepulcralis

Of garden origin and only occurring where planted. The commonest of the weeping willows and quite widely planted beside ponds and rivers, occasionally elswhere. Flowers March to April with most plants being male. A tree to 23m with strongly pendulous young branches. Winter twigs hairless, glossy, olive-brown to bright yellowish with pale buds. Twigs pliant, not easily snapped off. Leaves 7-12cm in length, green above, paler, richly glaucous below and tapered at the base; hairy at first but the hairs soon dropping. Leaf stipules very small, sharply pointed but soon falling. Catkins relatively slender. Bark craggy and fissured. Most plants are of the selected form chrysocoma which has particularly golden-yellow branches.

Weeping Willow Weeping Willow Weeping Willow Weeping Willow
Habit
Male flowers
Male flowers
Leaves
Weeping Willow Weeping Willow Weeping Willow Weeping Willow
Leaves (underside)
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Almond Willow      Salix triandra

Native but also planted. Widespread in small numbers in wetlands throughout the region, most commonly in the Broads. Flowers April to May. A large shrub or small tree to 10m, often broader than tall. Winter twigs hairless, strongly ridged towards the tips. Leaves 2-11cm in length, dark glossy green above, paler below and widest about two thirds of the way from the base. Leaf stipules persistent and usually present well into the growing season. Catkins relatively slender, each male flower with 3 stamens. Bark smooth but, on older branches cracking and flaking to leave pale patches.

Almond Willow Almond Willow Almond Willow Almond Willow
Male flowers
Male flowers
Leaf
Leaf stipule
Almond Willow Almond Willow
Winter twig
Bark


Sharp-stipuled Willow      Salix x mollissima

Hybrid between Almond Willow and Common Osier. Rare with a handful of old records, but more recently planted in a few areas in the west of the region. Flowers April to May. A spindly shrub to 6m. Leaves 5-12cm in length, very similar to those of Almond Willow but more elongate at the tip and with slightly down-rolled margins. Leaf stipules persistent and with a slender, drawn out tip. Twigs greenish to olive-brown. Bark smooth but often with a few flaking patches.

Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow
Habit
Leaves
Leaf
Leaf underside
Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow Sharp-stipuled Willow
Leaf stipule
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Purple Willow      Salix purpurea

Native but also occasionally planted. Widespread in small numbers, most commonly in the Fens and parts of the Broads. Flowers March to May. A large shrub or small tree to 5m, often broader than tall. Winter twigs hairless, slender and rounded, pale grey or tinged pale red or pinkish. Leaves 2-8cm in length, dull green above, paler below; typically with long-tapered bases and broader towards the tip but also sometimes more or less parallel sided. Leaf stipules small and soon lost. Bark smooth, grey.

Purple Willow Purple Willow Purple Willow Purple Willow
Habit
Male flowers
Male flowers
Leaves
Purple Willow Purple Willow Purple Willow
Leaf
Leaf stipule soon lost
Winter twig


Olive Willow      Salix elaeagnos

Introduced from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Grown as a garden ornamental and once recorded from West Norfolk. Flowers May to June. A broad, dense shrub to 6m, often broader than tall. Winter twigs yellowish-brown or reddish. Leaves 5-15cm in length, dull green above, whitish below with dense hairs and an inrolled margin; very narrow. Bark smooth, grey-brown.

Olive Willow Olive Willow Olive Willow
Habit
Leaves
Leaf underside
Olive Willow Olive Willow Olive Willow Olive Willow
Seedheads
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Common Osier      Salix viminalis

Native but also widely planted. Widespread and commonly planted in damp hedgerows and as windbreaks. Flowers February to April. A whispy shrub or small tree to 6m in height. Winter twigs yellowish- or olive-brown, young growths downy. Leaves 10-15cm in length, glossy green above, silky hairy beneath with inrolled margins. Leaf stipules narrow and pointed, soon falling. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown, developing fissures on older plants.

Common Osier Common Osier Common Osier
Habit
Male flowers
Male flowers
Common Osier Common Osier Common Osier
Leaves
Leaf underside
Winter twig


Silky-leaved Osier      Salix x holosericea

Hybrid between Common Osier and Grey Willow. Occurs naturally but also widely planted. Scattered records have been made from wetland habitats throughout the region. Flowers March to April. A shrub or small tree to 9m. Winter twigs reddish-brown with a few striae under the bark (see Grey Willow). Leaves 6-11cm in length, green above, silky hairy beneath with slightly inrolled margins. The deeply impressed veins give the plant a less smooth look than many of the willows. Leaf stipules relatively broad, ear-shaped. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown, developing fissures on older plants. Note: in older books, this hybrid was known as Salix x smithiana, a name now applied to Broad-leaved Osier.

Silky-leaved Osier Silky-leaved Osier Silky-leaved Osier Silky-leaved Osier
Habit
Leaves
Leaf
Leaf underside
Silky-leaved Osier Silky-leaved Osier Silky-leaved Osier
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Broad-leaved Osier      Salix x smithiana

Hybrid between Common Osier and Goat Willow. Occurs naturally but also widely planted. Scattered records have been made from wetland habitats throughout the region. Flowers March to April. A shrub or small tree to 9m. Winter twigs yellowish- or reddish-brown with no striae under the bark (see Grey Willow). Leaves 6-12cm in length, green above, silky hairy beneath with slightly inrolled margins. Leaf stipules narrowly ear-shaped. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown, developing fissures on older plants. Compared with Silky-leaved Osier, this species averages slightly larger leaves with less impressed veins and a greater covering of longer, silky hairs on the underside. Note: in older books, this hybrid was known as Salix x sericans.

Broad-leaved Osier Broad-leaved Osier Broad-leaved Osier Broad-leaved Osier
Habit
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf underside
Broad-leaved Osier Broad-leaved Osier Broad-leaved Osier
Leaf stipules
Winter twig
Winter twig


Goat Willow      Salix caprea

Native but also widely planted. Widespread and common as a native in damp woods and other wetland habitats; widely planted elsewhere in hedges and shelter belts. Flowers February to May. Variously a shrub or multistemmed tree, typically to 10m in height but sometimes to 20m as a native in wet woods. Winter twigs very variable in colour, typically yellowish- or olive-brown but sometimes with a reddish or purple wash - and even almost black in some cultivated forms. No striae under the bark (see photo). Leaves 3-12cm in length, broad and often with the look of apple leaves. Leaf stipules broad and ear-shaped. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown, developing fissures on older plants but also often showing diamond-shaped indents, similar to those on some poplars.

Goat Willow Goat Willow Goat Willow
Habit
Male flowers
Leaves
Goat Willow Goat Willow Goat Willow Goat Willow
Wood beneath bark
Winter twig
Winter twig
Bark


Grey Willow      Salix cinerea subspecies cinerea

Native but also widely planted. Widespread and very common as a native in damp woods and other wetland habitats; widely planted elsewhere in hedges and shelter belts - our commonest shrubby willow. Flowers March to April. Typically a shrub or small tree to 10m in height. Winter twigs variable in colour, typically reddish- or olive-brown, downy at first and often into the second year. Clear striae under the bark (see photo). Leaves 2-9cm in length, narrow at the base and broadening towards the tip. Leaf stipules usually broad and ear-shaped but sometimes smaller and narrower. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown.

Grey Willow Grey Willow Grey Willow
Male flowers
Female flowers
Leaves
Grey Willow Grey Willow Grey Willow
Wood beneath bark
Winter twig
Seed heads


Rusty Willow      Salix cinerea subspecies oleifolia

Native but also widely planted. Widespread but uncommon as a native in wetland habitats; sometimes planted elsewhere in hedges and shelter belts. This subspecies of the Grey Willow is abundant throughout much of the UK, but is uncommon in East Anglia, where it is largely replaced by the subspecies cinerea (above). Flowers March to April. Variously a shrub or multistemmed tree, sometimes to 17m in height. Winter twigs variable in colour, typically reddish- or olive-brown, downy at first and sometimes into the second year. Weak striae under the bark (see photo). Leaves 2-9cm in length, typically more parallel sided than those of subspecies cinerea and with rust-coloured hairs on the underside. Leaf stipules usually rather small and soon falling. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens. Bark greyish-brown.

Rusty Willow Rusty Willow Rusty Willow
Leaf
Leaf underside
Leaf stipules
Rusty Willow Rusty Willow
Winter twig
Winter twig


Eared Willow      Salix aurita

Native. A species of wet, acid heaths and so rather rare in East Anglia. Flowers April to May. A low, rounded shrub to 2.5m in height. Winter twigs usually reddish-brown with red buds. Striae on wood under the bark (see photo). Leaves 2-6cm in length, broadening towards the tip, fine-pointed and often with undulating margins. Leaf stipules broad, ear-shaped, usually persistent. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens.

Eared Willow Eared Willow Eared Willow Eared Willow
Habit
Female flowers
Leaves
Leaves
Eared Willow Eared Willow Eared Willow
Leaf
Leaf stipule
Winter twig


Creeping Willow      Salix repens

Native. Rather rare in East Anglia but scattered here and there in wetland soils in The Broads, on acidic heaths and sandy dune slacks. Flowers April to May. A low, rounded shrub to 2m in height, usually forming spreading patches with creeping stems. Winter twigs reddish- or yellowish-brown with red buds. Leaves 1-3.5cm in length, often with a blue-grey look. Leaf stipules pointed, tiny. Catkins relatively short and stout, each male flower with 2 stamens.

Creeping Willow Creeping Willow Creeping Willow Creeping Willow
Male flowers
Male flowers
Female flowers
Leaves
Creeping Willow Creeping Willow Creeping Willow
Leaves
Leaf stipules
Winter twig