White Willow Salix alba L.


The white willow is the commonest tree-size willow in Europe, attaining heights of 20 to 25 metres with trunks one metre across and living from 80 to 120 years. Old trees have thick, vertically furrowed, yellow-brown bark. The yellowish flowers, arranged in catkins, appear in April, while those borne on the female trees ripen into capsules with small, down-covered seeds in early June.

The white willow is found mainly in lowland woods alongside rivers where, together with poplars and alders, it grows on sites with a high water table. It stands up well to prolonged spring floods. Its range of distribution embraces most of Europe, eastwards to western Asia and southwards to North Africa, mainly in the valleys of large rivers. It is a light-demanding tree, resistant to frost, and does well even in heavy and acidic soils. It is marked by the vigorous production of stump sprouts. In practice, it is propagated mainly by cuttings which root readily. The wood is soft, light and flexible and is used mainly for the building of boats, making wooden shoes, cellulose and cricket bats; the supple young stems are used for basketwork. Frequently planted in parks and cities is the hybrid between Salix alba and S. babylonica known as S. x chrysocoma. This has slender pendulous branches reaching to the ground and is the commonest of several kinds of “weeping willow”.

Leaves: Narrow lanceolate, 5—10 cm long by 1—2 cm wide, with finely toothed margins and silky hairy on the undersurface. Flowers: Male yellowish, female greenish, borne in catkins 3—5 cm long. Fruit: Capsules with small downy seeds.