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Salix purpurea

Purple Osier, Alaska Blue Willow
Salicaceae
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

SALIX

Classic streamside trees, willows are fast growing, weak-wooded, and short-lived. Weeping willows are best used as single trees near a stream or lake, though they can, with training, become satisfactory shade trees for a 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 riverbanks. For this last purpose, locally offered native types are best. Pussy willow branches can be cut in bud and brought indoors to bloom. Willows take any soil; most even tolerate poor drainage. All have shallow, invasive roots and are difficult to garden under; don’t plant near sewer lines. Most are subject to pests (tent caterpillars, aphids, borers, and spider mites).

Twig blight may be a problem in the Northwest (spray copper fungicide on new foliage); Texas root rot may cause trouble in the desert. Species hybridize readily, resulting in much confusion of names in the nursery trade.

Salix purpurea

From Europe, North Africa, and central and eastern Asia. This shrub grows to 15 ft. tall and wide, with purple branches. Narrow, 1–3-in.-long leaves are dark green above, bluish beneath. Cut shrub to the ground if overgrown. ‘Canyon Blue’ grows fast to 5 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide, with blue-gray leaves. ‘Gracilis’ (‘Nana’), dwarf purple osier, has slimmer branches and narrower leaves; it is usually grown as clipped hedge and kept 1–3 ft. tall and wide. 

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