Willowy: abounding with willows; resembling a willow; pliant, flexible, gracefully tall and slender (Merriam-Webster).

How many plants have so infiltrated our collective mind that they describe not only the plant, but also characteristics of people? Oaks come to mind, as in, strong as an…but few others. Willows have been used by people for eons, in craft, furniture and medicine, so its presence in our language is understandable.

Below are descriptions of just a smattering of the 200-plus species of Willows in cultivation, types that are reliably found at Portland Nursery each spring. Many more exist and may make their way into our rotation if we are lucky. Several species native to the Pacific Northwest are often part of our Native Trees selection.

S. 'Golden Curls'

Salix alba 'Tristis' x Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa': Golden Curls Willow

Gold twisting branches & curly green leaves that turn gold before falling off in autumn. Grows as a large multi-stemmed shrub or is trained into a tree form. Portland Nursery carries the tree form.

Grows 30' x 15', Sun, Z5 (-20f).

S. 'Tortuosa'

Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa' x Salix alba 'Britzensis': Red Curls

Curly mahogany red stems and twisting green leaves. Grows as a large multi-stemmed shrub or is trained into a tree form. Portland Nursery often carries this in a multi-stemmed shape, rather than a tree shape.

Grows 30' x 15-20', Sun, Z5 (-20f).

Weeping Willows

S. alba 'Tristis'

Salix alba 'Tristis': Golden Weeping Willow or Niobe Willow

One of the hardiest and largest Weeping Willows. Its trunk and main branches grow upright, while gold-barked side branches weep straight to the ground. Stem color is most prominent during winter. Leaves are bright green, narrow & lance-shaped. Flowers occur in catkins.

Grows 50-70' tall, 30-50' wide, Sun, Z4 (-30f)

Willow Salix babylonica

Salix babylonica: Babylon Weeping Willow

Weeping Willow with stout upright branching structure and side-branches that hang to the ground. Bark is reddish-brown when young and leaves are bright green on top and milky green beneath, turning gold before falling in autumn. Flowers occur in fuzzy catkins that are obscured by foliage.

Grows 30-40' x 30-40', Sun, Z6 (-10f)

Pussy Willows

S. Caprea

Salix caprea: French Pussy Willow or Goat Willow

Late in winter, fuzzy gray catkins push through bronze buds to hale the coming of spring. Round simple green leaves to 4" long have fuzzy backing & turn gold to brown before falling in autumn. Pussy Willows usually grow as a multi-stemmed small tree or large shrub. They can be cut low to the ground after bloom to maintain a smaller size.

Grows 15-30' tall x 12-15' wide if unpruned, Sun, Z4 (-30f)

S. caprea 'Pendula'

Salix caprea 'Pendula': Weeping Pussy Willow

This Pussy Willow has the same flowering and leaf characteristics as the species, S. caprea. Instead of growing upright though, it stays low, growing along the ground like a ground cover. When grafted to a trunk, the Weeping Pussy Willow forms a small mounded canopy and weeps to the ground. Best with regular water in summer.

Full size is 8-10' tall x 6-8' wide, Sun, Z4 (-30f)

s. yezo-alpina 'Creeping Alpine'

Salix yezo-alpina: Creeping Alpine Willow

White fuzzy catkins 2" long come at the same time as leaves in late March. Leaves are green, leathery and covered in a thick white pelt of fuzz. The Alpine Willow creeps slowly along the ground, mounding here and there, but mostly spreading out. Best with regular moisture in summer months.

Very nice for use in rockery or in a container where it can spill over the side. Grows 6-8 inches tall x 3-4 feet wide, Sun-part shade, Z5 (-20f)

Shrubby Willows

Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki'

Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki': Dappled Willow

This Willow is grown mostly for its leaves. In early spring leaves are subdued, barely showing a hint of what is to come, with a bit of white speckling amongst the light green color. The next thing you know, leaves so white and pink they look like flowers have covered the plant. This stage lasts until the heat of summer arrives and fades foliage to 'dappled' green and white. New branches grown during spring maintain a bright coral pink color year round. Older bark tends to fade to light brown.

White and pink leaves have less chlorophyll than green leaves, so they burn in hot sun. They have the best color when planted in a spot with a few hours of morning sun and shade for the remainder of the day.

Dappled Willow can be cut low to the ground in early spring to keep the plant bushy and promote good leaf and stem color, or it can be allowed to grow into a more open and large shape.

Grows 3-4' x 3-4' if pruned low in spring, 5-6' x 6-8' unpruned. Part Shade – Shade, Z5.

S. purpurea

Salix purpurea 'Nana': Dwarf Arctic Willow, Dwarf Purple Osier

Slender blue-green leaves turn gold in autumn, dark purple stems sway in the breeze. Like many willows, the Arctic Willow can be either pruned close the ground to keep it smaller, or allowed to grow larger and develop a more open branching structure.

Grows 3-4' if pruned low to the ground, 5-7' unpruned. Sun, part shade, Z3 (-40f)