Salix pyrifolia

pyri (Pyrus) folia = pear  leaf

Balsam or Pear-leaf Willow

This lovely Willow is native to the upper Northeastern States and most of the Canadian Provinces. On our property in Vermont we have one bush of this species; it's a lonely male clone and we haven't seen another plant of this species anywhere else in Vermont, although they are reported in the State. We have been given cuttings of other specimens of this species and some of them are female--so I will plant some near this lonely male so he can do his thing with a lady of his own kind! This is a choice species, one of the most attractive native willows in the Northeast. Great foliage, beautiful flowers and winter stems that are very glossy dark red or reddish brown. The leaves are thin so that when they are very young they can be translucent; often they are red-tinged making it even more attractive. The leaves are glossy above and are, of course pear-shaped, but much smaller. The flowers open just as the leaves appear; in the meadow where it grows, it is surrounded by male and female bebbiana, discolor, eriocephala and petiolaris (and maybe sericea). We keep hoping to find a hybrid between the pear-leaf and one of the others; apparently hybrids with discolor have been reported, but no convincing specimens have been found (George Argus, Flora of North America).  BTW we have never been able to smell the balsam odor on the buds and fresh leaves, sadly I have a lousy sense of smell! As this grows at 70° N above the Arctic Circle in Canada it maybe hardy to Zone 2 and could be our hardiest willow!

USES: As an ornamental plant and native plant gardens.

Exquisite foliage of the Pear-leaf Willow in one of our meadows (it was a farm for over 100 years)!


At left the upper-sides of the leaves in late summer with red flower buds developing.

At right the glaucous undersides of the leaves and the flower buds green as they are hidden from the sun!

Flower buds appear in early Autumn,

taken in late September.

In late April the catkins start to open in great abundance, as you can see.

Anthers burst open and the abundant pollen appears.

Right photo: if you look closely you may see some of willow fluff and seed (center left).

This has probably blown from a nearby Salix discolor female that flowered weeks earlier.


Present in State and Province

Present but rare

Distribution of Salix pyrifolia in the USA and Canada

Map used by permission of Dr John Kartesz & BONAP


Female catkins open with the foliage. They are hairy and start green; gradually the anthers turn pink-red.

Just so lovely with the red stems. This is definitely one of our most favorite native willows!

A busy bumble-bee gathering pollen on a sunny day in early May.

At last we have lady friends for our lonely male plant, so I will play match-maker and plant a lady near the poor lonely guy! I do hope they get along! Left from Nova Scotia, right from Ontario. These catkins look different in length and color so I will have to study these further. Maybe a hybrid at right?

From bursting buds to expanding catkin, male catkins expand before leaves appear.

Mid April to early May.

In late April the leaves start to open covered with dense silky hairs.

Right: In early May young leaves unfold

in dazzling display. This maybe our

handsomest native species.

left: After coppicing a 6ft plant this is the result! Worth growing just for this late spring bonanza.


of Michael Dodge