12 Common Species of Willow Trees and Shrubs

Weeping willow trees

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Willows include more than 400 trees and shrubs from the Salix genus—a group of moisture-loving plants that are native to temperate and cold regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Depending on species, willows range in size from low-ground-hugging shrubs to towering giants of 90 feet or more. 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. Most species of Salix have lance-shaped leaves, although some species have narrower leaves (these species are known as osiers), while others have rounder leaves (most of these species are known as sallows). The wood of willow trees tends to be brittle, so ornamental landscape use is limited to a relatively few species. 

In landscapes, willows are often planted alongside streams where the interlacing roots will hold back soil and prevent 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. 

Warning

It is wise to be cautious about planting willows near sewer lines or water pipes, because their roots will naturally gravitate to them. Most,if not all, willow species are moisture-loving plants that will seek out underground pipes carrying water. If willow roots penetrate a water main or sewer line, you may be facing thousands of dollars in repair and replacement cost.

  • 01 of 12

    Bebb Willow (Salix bebbiana)

    A bebb willow

    Matt Lavin/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    This is a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that naturally grows in thickets along side streams, lakes, and bogs. It is a dominant natural species in wetlands across the northern tier of North America but is rarely found south of zone 4. The wood of the Bebb willow is often used in carving. Outside of its use in woodworking and for securing river banks, Bebb willow has few landscape uses, since it is short-lived and prone to insect and disease damage. Once established, this species is relatively drought- tolerant.

    Regionally, you may hear Bebb willow called by other common names, including beaked willow, gray will, diamond willow, or long-beaked willow. This species is known to readily hybridize with other willow species, so precise identification is sometimes difficult.

    • Native Area: Northern half of North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 4
    • Height: 10 to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to shade
  • 02 of 12

    Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana 'Tortusa')

    Corkscrew willow

     

    nobtis / Getty Images

    This variety is favored due to its twisting branches that can add winter interest. It is a true tree rather than a multi-stemmed shrubby plant. The corkscrew willow is also used as an accent in floral arrangements and as bonsai. Regionally, this plant goes by several other common names, including curly willow, globe willow, Pekin willow, and twisted willow. The species form, S. matsudana, is closely related to the weeping willow, and some botanists consider it to be a naturally occurring variation of that tree. S. matsudana 'Tortusa' is one of the most popular cultivars, featuring twisted branches; others include 'Golden Curls' and 'Scarlet Curls'.

    • Native Area: Northeastern China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 20 to 40 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Narrowleaf Willow (Salix exigua)

    Close-up of a coyote willow

    Andrey Zharkikh/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    Also known as coyote willow, this is a shrubby form of willow, often used to make flexible poles or building materials. Rustic furniture is often made from the branches of this plant, which have an attractive gray, furrowed bark. Although this plant has a very broad natural range across most of North America, it is considered endangered or threatened in some parts of the eastern U.S. 

    This plant may have other common names in different regions, including dusky willow, and gray willow. In addition to its use as a source of building materials, it is is sometimes planted and pruned as a small ornamental tree. It has a remarkable tolerance for different conditions, thriving both in drought conditions and extended flooding.

    • Native Area: all of North America, Alaska to Louisiana
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Height: 6 to 15 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 12

    Dappled Willow (Salix integra 'Hahuro-nishiki')

    Dappled willow

     

    ANGHI / Getty Images

    This willow shrub works well as a specimen plant since the leaves are variegated, featuring shades of pink, green, and white. The pink comes when the leaves first appear and will fade to just green and white as the season progresses. As a bonus, the branches turn an attractive red in the winter. Growing from multiple stems, it works well in shrub borders or rain gardens.

    Other common names for this plant include variegated willow, Nishiki willow, Japanese dappled willow, Japanese variegated willow, and tricolor willow. This willow may also be sold under the variety name of 'Albomaculata'. Another willow with similar markings is Salix integra 'Flamingo'.

    • 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
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Goat Willow (Salix caprea)

    A closeup of a goat willow
    LordRunar/Getty Images

    Goat willow is one of several willow species that is also sometimes known as pussy willow. Goat willow is a large shrub or small tree that is often grown for the attractive puffy catkins. Kept closely pruned, it is sometimes used for hedges and screens, or as a filler plant in boggy areas. Goat willow is one of only a few willow species that does not propagate easily from cuttings, so both a male and female plant will be needed for proper pollination and production of seeds.

    In addition to pussy willow, this plant may be known regionally by other common names, including great sallow, European pussy willow, and French pussy willow.

    • Native Area: Western and Central Asia, Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 12 to 25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 06 of 12

    Peach-Leaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides)

    A peach-leaf willow

    Andrey Zharkikh/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    As you can probably guess from the common name, the leaves on this willow resemble peach tree leaves. Like the goat willow, propagation is done by seeds, since cuttings root with difficulty, if at all. It is a fairly large tree that 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. 

    Other common names for this plant include almond willow and Wright willow.

    • Native Area: North America, U.S. through southern Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 5
    • Height: 30 to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 07 of 12

    Purple Osier Willow (Salix purpurea)

    purple osier willow

     

    Martin Siepmann / Getty Images

    The purple osier willow is a shrub that has purple stems and blue-green leaves when the plants are juveniles. It can handle some shade and dry soil. It is normally planted in order to control erosion along streams and lakes. It can also be planted as a hedge, or the attractive flowers and stems can be used in crafts. This is a willow that has been used for the treatment of pain, due to the presence of salicin in its bark. Purple osier willow may require cutting back to the ground every three to five years in order to keep the plant to maintain vigor and the proper ornamental shape.

    Other common names for this plant include basket willow, Alaska blue willow, purple willow, and blue Arctic willow.

    • Native Area: Western Asia, North Africa, and Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 8 to 10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 08 of 12

    Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

    A closeup of a pussy willow

    InAweofGod'sCreation/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Along with the goat willow, this is the American willow species that falls under the common name pussy willow. The pussy willow is commonly grown for use by the floral design industry. In landscapes, it sometimes appears in hedges and in rain gardens. Unlike goat willow, which has thicket-like multiple stems growing from the ground, S. discolor can be shaped into a small tree or a shrub with a central stem.

    Other common names for this plant include American pussy willow, glaucous willow, large pussy willow, and American willow.

    • Native Area: North America, Canada to central U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 2 to 25 feet tall, depending on the variety
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Scouler's Willow (Salix scouleriana)

    Scouler's Willow

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Scouler's willow is a multiple-stemmed tree that can tolerate drier conditions than many willows. This is another diamond willow popular for carving, and was discovered by Scottish naturalist John Scouler. It is sometimes planted as a hedge or to control erosion along a body of water, though caution is advised since this plant can be invasive—it can quickly take over a landscape, especially after fire or logging. Scouler's willow is an important source of browsing vegetation for deer, elk, and other wildlife. It is an unusual willow in its willingness to grow in close proximity to other trees, often appearing in mixed forests.

    Other common names for this willow include fire willow, black willow, and western pussy willow.

    • Native Area: Western North America, Alaska to northern mountain states of the U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 10 of 12

    Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

    Weeping willow
    Richard Hamilton Smith/Getty Images

    The weeping willow is perhaps the most well-known of all landscape trees with a weeping habit. It works well to grace the edges a pond or lake, but it can also be used as a landscape specimen tree in larger yards. The branches will sway delightfully in the breeze, though stronger winds might break off some of the stems and litter the ground. Plan on replacing it in about 30 years, as weeping willows are not long-lived. While growing to full size, though, it may add as much as 10 feet each year.

    • Native Area: Northern China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10
    • Height: 35 to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 11 of 12

    White Willow (Salix alba)

    White willow tree

     

    vili45 / Getty Images 

    The white willow may sometimes be infected by fungi that produce the diamond willow characteristic. Its name comes from the fact that the leaves are white underneath. It is not a good tree in most landscape situations because of its weak wood and enormous size, but is sometimes used to fill in low wet spots. One popular variety, Salix alba 'Tristis' is sold as golden weeping willow. The stems are often used in basket-weaving. This is an extremely large and fast-growing tree, so make sure to plant it in a spot with plenty of space.

    • Native Area: Western and central Asia, Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Height: 50 to 100 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 12

    Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)

    A closeup of a yellow willow

    Matt Lavin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Yellow willow is a shrubby form that may approach the size of an upright tree. It is a favorite food of moose, elk, sheep, and beavers. It occurs naturally across much of western and central North America, and it is sometimes planted to repair areas that have had floods, erosion, or other problems. It reproduces easily both through cuttings and seeds.

    • 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

Tip

Some willows will develop a diamond pattern on their branches, usually causes by a fungal infection, that inspires the name "diamond willow." This type of wood is favored by wood carvers due to its striking pattern. Diamond willow branches can be used to make walking and hiking sticks, as well as decorative furniture.