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of Michael Dodge

Salix fragilis  

fragilis = fragile (stems)

Crack Willow

The Crack Willow forms a large imposing tree that is widely naturalized in Eurasia, North America, temperate South America, South Africa and Australia. It was introduced to the US by settlers and is found all over New England, mid-Atlantic States and many Western States. It is one of the commonest large trees in Northwest Vermont and the striking furrowed bark is prominent in winter. The catkins appear with the leaves in May-June and the abundant male catkins are bright yellow, making a very colorful display. It thrives along river banks, its natural home. There are no rivers on my property, but we had several when we moved there. They are called crack willows because the two-year old branches snap off very easily and this is why they are distributed so widely as broken branches root very easily and during floods are moved down river--a process called stem fragmentation. Hardy to Zone 4 (3).

USES: As a large ornamental tree, coarse basketry, a neighbour made a great light-weight salad bowl from a very old tree I cut down; it burns with great ferocity and sparks, so shouldn’t be used in open fireplaces. Some of the huge cross-sections of the old trunk have started to grow just sitting on the ground showing its willingness to survive, as have fallen branches!

This is a rare event with Salix--an androgynous flower where male and female reproductive organs are found on the same catkin. When this happens it is usually found on hybrid willows, as this one is. I found this in the nursery 2013 when I was studying which of our willows were male and which were female.

below: these young trees grew from live logs that were thrown on the ground when we cut down some dangerous old trees. We have not touched them since the chain-saw day.

Male catkins can grow 3-5in long and they put on quite a show.

These catkins are about to explode with golden-yellow pollen.

A large old specimen of Salix fragilis in northwest Vermont.

Probably got there by stem-fragmentation during a Lake Champlain flood.

Bark of a Crack Willow about 15-20 years old. Photo in Colorado June '16,

Near the Yampa River Botanical Park.

Hard to tell if this is one tree or two trunks that have grafted together at the base and at 10ft. Montreal Botanic Garden July 2016

Young female catkins develop on short stems; this is when bees visit them as the nectar is at it's most abundant. The result is seen in the photo at right, with swollen ovaries.

In the nursery early May

The trunk of a young tree,

perhaps 3-4 years old

Multi stemmed tree. This happens when a tree is severely pruned to the ground when it is just a few years old.




A row of male Salix fragilis in New York State in full flower giving a golden yellow display. One of the brightest colors in this late April landscape. One of the great joys of early blooming willows is that they wake up Spring with startling bright hues.

Catkins appear with the leaves and produce lots of bright yellow color.

These are male catkins and bees love them! These curled catkins are unique to this tree.

Immature foliage that will mature to 5-7in. The leaves are dark green, glossy and long pointed.

Young stems are yellowish-green and very supple.

Below are female flowers on short stems.

We cut down a dangerous tree of a male Salix fragilis that was threatening our house. We stacked the branches in a pile and this is what grew from them. Propagation through stem fragmentation!

Fertized female catkins on a plant in the Ottawa Experimental Station Arboretum.

Ovaries bulging with seeds!

Olive-brown twigs of second-year growth

This tunnel was made from dried willow branches over a metal frame and used to grow vines over in summer. The ancient tree to the left of the structure is a fine specimen of Salix fragilis.

Montreal Botanic Garden July 2016


Present, but not native

Present, but not native

Distribution of Salix fragilis, an introduced species, in North America.

Map used by permission of Dr John Kartesz & BONAP


This bush was coppiced the previous year, resulting lots of lush growth. June '16