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Willow Trees (Salix): The Best Facts That You Want to Know

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Willow trees grow in a distinctive shape. The branches grow in long vines that droop from down. In general, willows thrive along bodies of water. Growing along the bank of water is difficult. Therefore, the willow tree has developed strong roots that are tough and large.

While willow trees thrive along the riverbank, they are not trees with long lives. Unlike most other trees, willows tolerate shade well. On the other hand, many animals and insects depend upon the willow tree for food and shelter. Beavers love to use willow to build dams.

Even though willow trees are not hardy for long lives, they begin life easily. They readily root from cuttings and the seeds that blow in the air.

Many ancient cultures used the willow tree for many things, from medicine to baskets. The willow tree grows in the Northern Hemisphere in the cold and temperate regions. You will find them in moist soils. To control erosion, Australians planted willow trees along water sources.

However, we consider the willow to be an invasive weed in Australia now. The trees loved the soil and climate they spread quickly.

So How Many Kinds of Willow Trees Are There?

The willow tree is part of the Salix genus. All in all, the Salix genus contains over 400 species. The genus contains both shrubs and deciduous trees. Willow trees were given the distinction of this genus as far back as the 1750s. However, the word Salix dates back even further for these trees. The Ancient Romans called willow trees Salix meaning “near water”.

Modern-day botanists divide the genus into subgenera because the group really needs to be split apart further. However, the entire genus is part of the Salicaceae family.

Though there are over 400 species in the genus, below is a list of the most common species:

  • White willow (Salix alba)
  • Grey willow (Salix cinerea)
  • Black willow (Salix nigra)
  • Indian willow (Salix tetrasperma)
  • Dwarf willow (Salix herbacea)
  • Purple willow (Salix purpurea)

Willow trees make hybrids easily and so there are countless crosses. In fact, the willow needs no intervention for this to happen. Cross-production happens in natural all the time.

How Large do Willow Trees Grow?

The shrubs in the willow tree genus are short. Notably, the dwarf willow only grows to 3 inches tall, but spreads across the ground expansively.

Nevertheless, most willow trees grow to between 15 and 40 feet. One of the fastest growing trees, willows easily add 2 feet a year to their height to maturity. The willow tree is symmetrical, with a spread that is close to 35 feet in the taller trees.

What Does a Willow Tree Look Like?

The willow tree is easily recognizable. To be sure, the drooping, vine-like branches reaching towards the ground are the first thing you will notice. The willow grows a large canopy of leaves and branches. Usually, you will find this tree along a body of water, but it is unnecessary for the willow to thrive.

The leaves along the branches are elongated with serrated edges. However, the leaves come in a verity of colors from yellow-tinted to blue-tinted to green. One species even grows with purple-like leaves.

willow trees - willow leaves

Whether it is spring or fall, you will find the willow full of leaves. In fact, it is one of the first trees to bud new leaves in spring and holds onto them deep into autumn. Ultimately, in late October, the willow yields like all the others and loses its leaves.

Willow trees grow catkins, both male and female on one tree. These catkins grow little hairs along them and are typically pink and turn orange or purple after they release the seeds. 

Where Can I Find a Willow Tree?

Willow trees live across the Northern Hemisphere. All in all, a significant amount of North America hosts willow trees. The central part of the continent is too dry for the willows to thrive. Along the Eastern United States, willow trees grow from Northern Canada down to Florida and even as west as Louisiana.

The western United States is also home to the willow tree. Alaska, California, Nevada, and Arizona all have willow trees.

Willow trees also grow in Europe. Just like North America, the willow tree grows in the cold climates and further south to the temperate regions. Almost the entire continent is covered with willow trees. Additionally, willow trees grow across the United Kingdom.

Finally, willow trees grow in Asia. There are species in Northern China. Many portions of Syria and central Asia are home for willow trees.

As stated previously, many willow trees spread across Australia. It is an enormous problem that the government is working to combat.

How Long Can a Willow Tree Live?

The willow tree lives a brief life. To be sure, the lifespan is close to 30 years. It is likely that the rapid growth rate above 2 feet per year affects the lifespan. If you care for your willow tree properly, it is possible for it to live for 50 years.

Can I Grow a Willow Tree?

Willow trees grow just about in any climate but demand moist soil. Also, they are suitable for both full sun and partial shade. You can start your willow from cuttings or a sapling.

If you plan to start from a cutting, take a branch that is at least 18 inches long. You will need to insert the cut end into moist soil. As long as you keep it moist and supported against strong weather, your cut will thrive into a beautiful willow.

Planting bare root yearlings is the most common method. Plant your yearling in a location where the roots will have space to spread. Willow trees often grow expansive roots that will destroy a garden.

With their fast growth rate, you will not need to care for your tree for long. The root system will establish quickly and it will grow tall and strong. Because of their high demand for water and moist soil, you will want to water your willow in times of drought to ensure a long life.

It is Time to BRANCH out into some fun tree facts

  • The weeping willow is the most widely known willow tree.
  • The pussy willow grows flowers that look just like cats’ paws.
  • Some willow trees grow 10 feet a year.

What are Some Uses for Willow Trees?

Natural Uses

Ancient cultures found many uses for the willow tree growing all over the land. In particular, the bark turns into twine and the wood crafts into baskets. Because of its proximity to water, cultures made harpoon lines and other fishing items from the willow tree.

Healers, in ancient times, found many applications for the willow tree. Both the leaves and bark are usable. Even Hippocrates mentions the benefits of willow. Some of the best uses for willow were for lower back pain, arthritis, and to lower fevers and pain.

Willow bark contains elements like aspirin and so children should not consume it. You can boil the leaves to treat a wide variety of ailments.

Planting willow trees in certain locations yields excellent benefits for the land and animal life. Bees use the willow tree for one of the first pollinators of the year. Also, birds love the willow tree for nesting.

Artistic Uses

The willow tree is a symbol for new life. They grow quickly and easily, even from branch cuttings. With the beautiful canopy of drooping leaves and branches, artists regularly add it to landscapes.

Likely the most popular mention of a willow tree in literature is the Weeping Willow in the Harry Potter series. The Weeping Willow plays a pivotal role in the books and is shown frequently in the movies.

Many folklores and cultures hold the willow in high regard. Its robust growth gives it a sense of immortality.

Residential/Commercial Uses

Carpenters use willow wood in many ways. We can use it for brooms, cricket bats, dolls, flutes, and toys. For one thing, the wood is a beautiful, yellowish white. The heartwood gains a pink hue of brown. The grain is straight and easy to work for veneers and finishes. However, the wood is low-density.

Overall, the wood is not durable for residential building or commercial applications, but there are many uses for smaller applications.

Wrap Up

The willow tree grows quickly and into a unique shape. The branches produce many leaves that hang over towards the ground.

Also, most willow trees grow near bodies of water because they demand so much water to live. This helps them grow over 2 feet a year. Many plant them in yards and gardens for their beauty. You will need to be cautious when planting them because they are rather invasive and might destroy your other plans.

Finally, they grow in almost any conditions and even grow from a branch cut and placed in the ground. However, they live brief lives for all this robustness. Most trees will not live past 30 years. The investment and time for care is low and so if you are looking for a unique look in your garden, the willow tree is the perfect choice for you.

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