Salix humilis

humilis = low-growing

Gray or Upland or Prairie Willow

A North American native shrub that is widespread in wet or dry meadows and edges of woods east of the Rockies. It grows abundantly in sandy soils and I found lots growing in Nova Scotia in such conditions. They are much more variable than I realized in the characteristics--leaf shape, density of leaves on a stem, amount of indumentum on the under surface of the leaves. In can reach 10ft and the clumps can spread to 15ft by layering, but never runs out of control--it just needs space. If left to mature it develops slender arching branches with attractive foliage in spring and autumn. Regular coppicing will result in vigorous new shoots that make excellent slender rods for basketry and garden ornaments. Hardy to Zone 3.

USES: excellent for stream-bank restoration and erosion control. If you have space it is an attractive ornamental shrub for meadows and large gardens.




Present in County

Present in State


Distribution of Salix humilis in the US

Map used by permission of Dr John Kartesz & BONAP


below: Female catkins in various stages of development. Top Late April

Female catkins that have been fertilized and are getting ready to blow away and land on some bare ground to germinate. They often start growing in our veggie garden!

Upper and lower sides of the Prairie Willow foliage.


We finally obtained a male form of this species from a friend who spends a great deal of his time hiking through places where willows grows naturally. A kind gesture, don't you agree? Late April.

This is a slightly different form of Salix humilis from Nova Scotia. The catkins are not as long as the form above; probably due to natural variation with geographically separate communities. Early May.

below: the original male plant from Nova Scotia. Some of these stems have over 50 catkins on them.

Seeds with their fluffy wings are blowing away from the flowers. Late May.

Salix humilis seems to be a variable species in various ways. Here are two clones from different areas of North America. The left image has black stems and buds

whereas the right image has reddish brown stems and reddish buds, possible due to hybridization?

Both shots taken within minutes of each other in late October from different plants.

Two female catkins at different stages of maturity.

Shown larger than life so that the details can be seen.

Male flowers in all their glory: male catkins start red and then turn to yellow just before the pollen sacs explode.

My! Do I love what I do and what I can share! How many people look at flowers; no, really look at them?


of Michael Dodge