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Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

Fast-growing, weak-wooded, short-lived plants. Weeping willows are best used as single trees near a stream or lake, though they can, with training, become satisfactory shade trees for patio or terrace. They leaf out very early in spring and hold their foliage late. Shrubby willows are grown mainly for catkins (this group goes by the name “pussy willow”) or colorful twigs, as screen plants, or for erosion control on stream or river banks.

Salix alba, photo courtesy of Science Photo Library/Alamy
Salix alba, photo courtesy of Science Photo Library/Alamy

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Salix alba

From Europe and NorthAfrica. Upright to 75–100 ft.tall, 50–100 ft. wide. Yellowishbrown bark. Narrow, 1 1/2–4-in., bright green leaves are silvery beneath, may turn golden in fall. The following forms are valued for colorful twigs.

Salix alba vitellina 'Britzensis', photo courtesy of John Glover/Alamy
Salix alba vitellina 'Britzensis', photo courtesy of John Glover/Alamy

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Salix alba vitellina

Upright, withbrilliant yellow twigs in winter.Can grow to tree size, but cuttingback gives best color display:lop to 1 ft. high yearly, justbefore spring growth begins.Stems may grow 8 ft. in a season.‘Britzensis’ has red ororange-red winter stems.

Salix babylonica
Salix babylonica

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Salix babylonica

From China. Grows 30 to 50 ft. tall and wide (or wider). Longer (3- to 6-in.) leaves, more pronounced weeping habit than Salix alba tristis. Greenish or brown branchlets.

Salix caprea

Native from Europe to northeastern Asia. Grows to 15 to 25 ft. tall, 12 to 15 ft. wide. Broad, 3- to 6-in.-long leaves are dark green above, gray and hairy beneath. Before leafout, male plants produce fat, woolly, pinkish gray catkins about 1 in. long. Can be kept to shrub size by cutting to ground every few years.

Salix discolor

Native to the eastern United States. Grows 15 to 25 ft. tall, 12 to 15 ft. wide. Slender red-brown stems; bright green, 2- to 4-in. leaves have bluish undersides. Catkins of male plants are main draw: soft, silky, pearl gray, to 1/2 in. long.

Salix matsudana

Native to north Asia. Upright, pyramidal growth to 40 to 50 ft. tall, 30 to 40 ft. wide. Bright green, narrow, 2- to 4-in.-long leaves. Can thrive on less water than most willows. This species and its varieties are popular in the high desert.

Salix purpurea

From Europe, North Africa, central and eastern Asia. To 15 ft. high and wide, with purple branches. Narrow, 1- to 3-in.-long leaves are dark green above, bluish beneath. Cut shrub to ground if overgrown.

'Hakuro Nishiki'

From Korea and Japan. Grows 4 to 6 ft. tall and wide; somewhat weeping. Stems and leaf buds are salmon pink; leaves are 4 in. long, –1/2 to 1 1/4 in. wide, light green mottled with white and pink. Best in partial shade.

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