Salix alba

alba = white

White Willow

After searching for a few years to make sure we had a good selection of the White Willow we finally found it in our nursery as a plant that had come to us with an obvious wrong label and we weren't certain what it really was! Taxonomists to the rescue! Salix alba is native to Europe, Eastern and Central Asia; in the 18-19C it was introduced into North America and is naturalized in many areas. It develops into a large tree, 30-75ft tall, with a trunk up to 3ft across at the base. It has gray-brown, deeply fissured bark. Foliage is usually paler than most other trees due to fine silky white hairs and when most trees assume their mid-green tones in mid-summer, the white willow stands out with it’s much paler foliage. Leaves are 3-5in long and .5-1.25in wide. Twig color is usually gray-brown to green-brown; however, it is very variable and many selections have been made (cultivars) with yellow, orange, red, green and gray stems. White willow cultivars are readily distinguished by their twiggy growth when coppiced.  An ancient variety of the White Willow, Salix alba var vitellina, crossed with the East Asian S. babylonica to produce a hybrid called S. xsalamonii that is the Golden Weeping Willow and is found throughout North America. (See S. xsalamonii ‘Chrysocoma’). This abundance is due mainly to stem fragmentation, where branches snap off and are carried, usually by water, to nearby sites where they root and grow readily. Our selection has leaves similar to the tree in the photograph at top right. Hardy to Zone 3.

USES: Makes an imposing specimen tree where it has space, or can be kept to a smaller size with pollarding every 1-2 years. Not too good for basket-making as coppiced growth is very twiggy.

cultivars = cultivated varieties (selections)

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An ancient specimen of the White Willow in the Montreal Botanic Garden. Late-June.

Below is a detail of the same tree showing the silvery gray-leaves, whiter on the lower surface.

Here's an old and older tree of Salix alba in the Arboretum of the

Canadian Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Canada. Amazing bark as they age!

On a bright sunny day the silver-whiteness of the foliage disappears.

Wikipedia image of S. alba showing the silver-white undersides of the leaves.

Young leaves of S. alba on 1/4in graph paper to show their size.

Distribution of S. alba, an Introduced Species

Map used by permission of Dr John Kartesz & BONAP



Species present

Species present, not rare

Male catkins on our original tree in the nursery. Mid-May.

It took several years to flower for the first time.

A female flower on the tree below.


of Michael Dodge