Willow Tree Guide: All 19 Species & How Its Bark Changed Science

Willow Tree framed in an oval, showing dark grey Willow tree bark and towering weeping willow branches with light filtering though the large willow branches.

A weeping Willow tree gets its name from the way rain drips off its leafy branches. But did you know there are many more varieties of willows?

It’s true.

In this complete guide, you’ll not only learn about 19 different types of willow trees, how to plant and care for them, but also how the Willow tree helped transform modern medicine, thanks to the pain-killing, fever reducing compound found in its bark.



  • Family: Salicaceae
  • Genus: Salix
  • Leaf: Sharply toothed
  • Bark: Furrowed and grayish or yellowish-brown
  • Seed: Small and averages 2-3 millimeters in length
  • Blossoms: Flowers are called catkins and are 1-3 inches long
  • Fruit: Small brown capsules on catkins that contain tiny seeds
  • Native Habitat: The weeping willow originates in China and traveled the silk road to Europe and North America
  • Height: 15- 40 feet
  • Lifespan: 20-50 years
  • Canopy: Round, thick and droopy
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Not Evaluated


The Willow tree bark contains the compound that is widely recognized as the ‘turn of the century miracle drug.’ Although it was used for centuries by a number of cultures, when scientists working for Bayer found a way to reduce the impact salicylic acid had on the stomach and use it to create aspirin…the rest was history.

In fact, “salicin,” means ‘willow’ in Latin!

Keep reading to learn about this really awesome tree.

What Are Some Common Willow Tree Types?

The weeping willow tree is probably the most recognized variety of this tree species, but there are a number of willows that can be planted in a number of hardiness zones. Check out some of the most common:

1. Arctic Willow

(Salix arctica)

It grows to a max of 5 feet only and is native to rocky and snowy habitats. Because of its small size, it is commonly used for winter gardens in zones where cold weather is the norm.

Photo of an arctic willow with red oval-shaped, pointed tips leaves and flowers with upright scaly spikes and no petals surrounded with other plants.

(Image: Jerzy Strzelecki11)

Close up shot of a Bebb willow branch with wrinkled elliptic and green pointed leaves and yellowish blossoms.

(Image: Olli Kilpi12)

2. Bebb Willow

(Salix bebbiana)

The Bebb willow grows between 10 to 30 feet. Its habitat is usually along waterways such as lakes and streams.

This willow can withstand drought once it has grown its roots. This is also usually material for wood carving and other woodwork.

3. Dwarf Willow

(Salix herbacea)

This grows to a maximum of 5 feet only making it perfect for patios, balconies, and small gardens. It can withstand many types of climates making it easy to manage.

Photo of a dwarf willow with small oval green leaves in a rocky ground.

(Image: Superchilum13)

Close up of of Hookers Willow with yellow catkins on a stem.

(Image: Maja Dumat14)

4. Hooker’s Willow

(Salix hookeriana)

The Hooker’s willow can grow as much as 26 feet and is native to coastal places. Because it is usually seen on coastal lines, it is also called Coastal willow or the Dune willow.

5. Narrowleaf Willow

(Salix exigua)

This willow grows up to 15 feet and is usually planted as ornamental plants and container shrubs in households. It can withstand both drought and floods. It is currently listed as endangered due to being in demand for construction needs.

Close shot of a Narrowleaf Willow with its yellow catkin and light green narrow leaves

(Image: Curtis Clark15)

Close up image of a Peach Leaf Willow on a palm hand with its green anther and leaves on a stem.

(Image: Matt Lavin16)

6. Peach Leaf Willow

(Salix amygdaloides)

This can go high between 13 and 90 feet and spans 35 feet. It originated in Canada and the US and is also usually seen alongside bodies of water.

7. Purple Osier Willow

(Salix purpurea)

This is a small willow that grows only up to between 10 and 12 feet. It is usually seen beside rivers as it is also effective in erosion control. Aside from that, its bark is a natural pain reliever.

Close up image of a Purple Osier Willow with its brown catkins and red orange blossoms on a stem.

(Image: AnRo000217)

Photo of a Scouler’s Willow branches with green oval-shaped and pointed tip leaves.

(Image: Matt Lavin18)

8. Scouler’s Willow

(Salix scouleriana)

This grows up to 22 feet and is usually grown beside rivers and streams. This willow’s name originated from its discoverer named John Scouler.

9. Weeping Willow

(Salix babylonica)

This is among the big and fast-growing types of willow that grows up to 80 feet at a growth rate of 10 feet yearly. This is native to China and is popular as a willow tree in the movies.

Weeping willow trees are famous for their delicate branches that graze the ground with silver-tinged leaves. They flow into a pleasant round canopy.

A Weeping Willow tree with drooping green leaves with other trees behind in a grass field.

(Image: Mike B19)

Close up photo of a yellow willow tree with its yellow catkins and green oval and pointed leaves.

(Image: Matt Lavin20)

10. Yellow Willow

(Salix lutea)

This grows up to 30 feet and a native to North America. It is commonly seen along the lakes and is also known to help prevent erosion.

11. Almond Willow

(Salix triandra)

This willow tree grows up to 35 feet and has striking almond-shaped leaves. This tree is also used for honey production because of its nectar and also as a biofuel source.

Close up hoto of an Almond Willow with its yellow catkin and green pointed leaves.

(Image: Аимаина хикари21)

Close up image of a Brittle Willow tree with its branches and yellow catkins and green pointed oval leaves.

(Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz22)

12. Brittle Willow

(Salix fragilis)

It grows up to 40 feet and is native to Europe and the western part of Asia. This is also called a Crack willow because it has a distinctive cracking sound whenever its branches fall or break.

13. Corkscrew Willow

(Salix matsudana tortuosa)

This willow tree grows up to 20 – 40 feet and spans 20 feet. This is native to China and is often used as an ornamental plant for landscape alongside bonsais.

Close up image of a Corkscrew Willow with its curly narrow green leaves.

(Image: David J. Stang23)

Close up image of a Dapple Willow its light yellow narrow and pointed leaves on a stem with some leaves turning brown color.

(Image: Yoko Nekonomania24)

14. Dappled Willow Tree/Japanese Willow

(Salix integra)

This is a small type of willow tree that only grows up to 15 feet. This is native to Japan and is popular due to its being an attractive shrub.

15. Goat Willow

(Salix caprea)

This grows up to 30 feet. It is popular in the landscape and is perfect for hedges and shrubs. Growing this type of willow requires effort because it needs pollination, unlike the others which only require cuttings.

Close up shot of a Goat Willow tree branches with its yellow flowers on green stems.

(Image: Kurt Stüber25)

Close up of an American Pussy Willow tree branch and its yellow orange catkins on a brown stem, situated along a neighborhood pathway.

(Image: Famartin26)

16. American Pussy Willow

(Salix discolor)

This pussy willow tree grows up to between 2 and 25 feet tall and spans 12 feet. This tree is distinct for having red branches and a cotton bud-like appearance. This is usually used as a border plant and hedge.

17. Desert Willow Tree (Chilopsis linearis)

This tree grows as high as 40 feet and thrives well in hot climates. It is also often considered either a large tree or a small shrub because of its physical appearance.

Pale pink desert willow flowers with delicate petals and yellow accents, set against a backdrop of green leaves.

(Image: chiltepin27)

wide angle image of a tall Willow Oak tree with its dark brown bark and green leaves, beside a white house.

(Image: Famartin28)

18. Willow Oak Tree

(Quercus phellos)

This is a huge tree that grows as high as 80 feet. It is a very popular tree in the southeastern portion of the US. Also, this grows fast as it can start producing acorns as early as 20 years.

19 Hybrid Willow Tree

The Willow Hybrid is a specific tree that was bred using Salix Alba (white willow) and Salix Matsudana (Chinese willow).

This was done to create a tree that grows fast and can withstand harsh conditions.

Hybrid willow tree hedge with tree branch fence below bright green upright growing leaves.

(Image: Lusi Lindwurm29)

These trees grow about 6 feet annually and are often used as a windbreak or privacy landscape addition. It’s got a very strong root system and is great for areas that have standing water and on hillsides because the roots are able to prevent washouts.

What’s the Best Way to Buy Willow Trees? (Where to Purchase Willow Tree Saplings)

When buying a Willow, the best option is to choose a local nursery or grower. While they may not have the particular type you’re looking for, it’s always a good idea to check.

Not only will a local grower have saplings that are already conditioned to your growing zone, they’re often able to provide keen insights about where and how to plant willow trees.

Moreover, when you buy a willow from a local nursery, you reduce the carbon footprint of the purchase by severely reducing shipments and transportation emissions.

But, if you can’t find the variety you want a local store, an online option will work. Just remember to use tree planting carbon offset strategies from carbon offset companies to eliminate the footprint.

Native Region and Habitat Growing Needs of Willow Trees

Willow shrubs and trees are mostly native to northern and temperate9 climates.

Three of the largest willows are the black willow, the brittle willow, and the white willow. They grow to 65 feet or more.

The first grows in North America while the other two are Eurasian but widely naturalized. All three willow varieties are common in lowland areas.

Willow Tree Seed identification chart showing a hairy seed (willow) in the center, with a drupe, cone, acorn, and husk seed types in circles around the center frame.
It’s best to find a growing site that receives anywhere from full sun to partial shade.

The soil needs to be moist, well-draining, and a bit acidic. It’s not advised to plant a willow near underground power lines or sewers because weeping willows have long roots.

How to Grow Willow Tree

When learning how to grow a willow tree, the planting practice is very similar to other large trees. Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball. Place the root ball in the hole while gently separating its roots.

Fill the hole halfway with the soil and then pour two gallons of water into it. Fill the rest of the hole and tamp down to remove the air bubbles.

Willow tree growth chart showing full grown Willow tree on a line graph with Willow tree age on the x-axis and Willow tree height on the y-axis.

Willow trees grow best when planted by ponds or streams.

Soil Needs

While willows tolerate most types of soil, be it alkaline, sandy, or clay-based soils, their preference is moist, well-draining, and slightly acidic soils. If soil is too alkaline, it can be made more acidic by adding sulfur.

Watering Requirements

Willows must be thoroughly watered once a week for the first year after planting. (or, even better, use a circular water hose to distribute water on a daily basis, as needed to keep the soil moist). After that, the tree needs just enough water so that the soil doesn’t dry out. Test the moisture level by sticking a finger or two into the soil. If the top two inches are dry, the tree needs to be watered.


Willow trees don’t need fertilizer to be healthy. If the leaves look pale, a balanced fertilizer may be added come spring.

Pruning Willow Trees

A willow tree needs to be pruned when it’s young to ensure there is one central trunk. It’s advisable to snip all its branches in late winter or early spring. That will encourage new branches to grow and invigorate the tree.

Weeping willows have many pest and disease issues because of their edible bark. The tree can obstruct underground pipes and powerlines. They need to be planted at least fifty feet away from a house.

How to Identify Willow Tree Types (Willow Tree Identification Tips)

The most identified willow tree varieties are the weeping willow and the pussy willow. A few more varieties grow in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Willow tree identification chart showing arctic willow leaves, bebb's willow flowers, hooker's willow tree, narrowleaf willow seeds and corkscrew willow bark in oval frames.

(Narrowleaf Willow Seeds Image: Curtis Clark35)

Willow trees are best known for their shapely and round canopies. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between species, but a closer look does reveal their various characteristics.

Willow Tree Leaf (Appearance of Willow Tree Leaves)

The leaves are feather-veined and linear. They are round at their base, acute or acuminate. The leaf petioles8 are short; the stipules10 resemble tiny leaves and sometimes remain on the tree for half the summer.


The leaves’ colors show a variety of greens tinged with yellow and light blue.

Facts About Willow Tree Bark

There’s a very wonderful fact about willow tree bark… in fact, it helped countless lives when scientists and doctors realized the fever reducing benefits of aspirin.

The bark of several varieties of the willow tree has been used as a pain reliever for centuries. Salicin is the active ingredient in the medicine made from willow bark.

Close up image of grey willow tree bark with ridged, verticle raised sections and knarly twists and turns.

(Image: User:Nino Barbieri30)

Willow bark is sometimes used as an alternative to aspirin, particularly for people who experience chronic headaches or back pain. Willow bark is also used in some products to aid weight loss.

The bark used is harvested from the branches of young willow trees. The white willow and black willow are two of the most common willow bark used medicinally.

Willow Tree Flowers and Blooms

The male flowers consist of 2-10 stamens accompanied by a nectareous gland and inserted at the base of a scale, which is square and very hairy. The anthers are rose-colored in the bud. They turn orange or purple after the flower blooms.

Close up of a Yellow willow tree flower bud growing on an willow branch.

(Image: b52_Tresa31)

The female flowers have a single ovary accompanied by a flat nectar gland inserted at the base of a scale.

Folklore, Significance, And Medicinal Qualities of Willow Tree

Willow trees like to grow close to the water and their folklore reflects water-based themes. The moon is also part of the myth because the water’s movement is affected by the moon. A Scottish myth claims that logging willow during the shrinking moon lowered the woods’ quality.

Hecate, the Greek goddess of the Underworld associated with the moon and the willow, taught sorcery and witchcraft. Helice, which means willow, was Zeus’s nurse and also associated with water.

Willow regrows with vigor and grows 2-4 feet in a season. This ability symbolizes vitality and immortality in China.

Nineteenth-century illustrations of weeping willows were etched as ornaments on gravestones. Willow leaves replaced palm leaves to enhance British churches on Palm Sunday. Beavers4 love eating willow and salicylic acid is stored in glands at the base of their tails. The substance known as castoreum was valuable medicine. Beavers were hunted to extinction in some countries because of the castoreum in their glands.

The world’s first synthetic drug, acetylsalicylic acid, was developed from the willow’s bark. It was marketed as Aspirin, named after the botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea Ulmerian.

Turn of the century Bayer aspirin package with German instructions.

(Image: Nikolay Komarov32)

This ‘Nature’s Aspirin’ dates back many centuries and was frequently used in ancient China and Europe for treating many health conditions. The aspirin drug was developed after the compound ‘salicin’ was extracted from willow bark, which is responsible for its medicinal benefits.

Willow bark can be consumed as raw bark, powder, liquid, or tablet.

  • Relieves Lower Back Pain: Studies confirm that salicin relieves lower back pain.5 150 mg of salicin a day helps relieve pain and discomfort.
  • Reduces Migraine: White willow bark is a good cure for headaches and migraine. Salicin reduces pressure in the blood vessels that constrict and cause headaches. A cup of white willow tea also assists in relieving pain and stress.
  • Prevents Heart Attack: A daily dose of willow bark or drinking a cup of willow tea twice a day reduces the risk of blood clotting and prevents heart attack7 with fewer side effects than aspirin.
  • Cures Fever: Willow bark has been used for centuries to cure fever and flu Drinking white willow tea 2-3 times a day treats mild fever and flu.
  • Eases Menstrual Cramps: Willow regulates prostaglandin production and reduces the inflammation in the uterine wall that helps relax the muscles and reduce the pain. It also eases the pain in the legs, back, and menstrual headaches. Mix white willow tea with honey and lime.
  • Toothache: Willow bark’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties help in relieving sore teeth. Apply willow bark powder paste to the tooth or gargle with willow bark tea or willow tincture to ease gum inflammation.
  • Treats Arthritis: Salicin can treat or heal arthritis and osteoarthritis.6 Swollen joints or muscles are the main cause of pain in arthritis. Willow bark and its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce the pain and discomfort caused by arthritis.
  • Lose Weight: White willow bark in tow with other supplemental ingredients increases body metabolism that can lead to weight loss. A great many weight loss supplements get better results when mixed with white willow bark.

Manufacturing Uses for Willows

Hunter-gatherer clans built shelters with bent willow frames. as well as dugout boats and coracles. It has also been used for house building, charcoal manufacture, and more.

Willow’s ability to absorb shock without splintering makes it an excellent wood to build cricket bats and stumps. The Dutch structured their clogs from willow wood and the Celts used willow to construct their chariot wheel spokes.

Gypsies used willow to make their clothes pegs, and the bark was used to make a reddish-brown dye for tanning leather and feeding livestock.

The fibrous and pliable bark is ideal for weaving rope including thick anchor ropes.  Bark strips were used to reinforce the thatch on roofs. It was even used to make cloth.

Willow tree baskets made from willow wood.

(Image: Hans33)

Willow is famous for its use in making wicker, which entails weaving stems to create many useful items. Before plastic was invented, willow was widely used to make containers large and small, including baskets, coffins, and beehives.

Willow weaving is popular again these days.

Willow trees offer graceful shade, lovely serenity, and many uses. When you plant them correctly, and take care of them, your Willow tree will provide years and years of enjoyment and beauty.

Frequently Asked Questions About Willow Tree

What Is the Difference Between a Willow and a Weeping Willow?

All willows, including the majestic weeping willow, belong to the Salicaceae family of plants. This group of deciduous trees and shrubs has 90 varieties that grow to various sizes and shapes and contribute many roles and functions to the landscape and environment.

What Does Willow Tree Symbolize?

As a symbol of fertility and new life, a willow branch can be planted and soon produce a sapling that will grow to be a new tree in its place. Its ability to grow and survive is greatly powerfully symbolic worldwide and shows how we can thrive even in challenging conditions.

Read More About Willow Tree


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