black willow (Salix nigra)
southwestern black willow
Gulf black willow
Salix denudata Raf.
Salix dubia Trautv.
Salix falcata Pursh
Salix flavovirens Hornem.
Salix ligustrina Michx. f.
Salix ludoviciana Raf.
Salix nigra Marsh. var. altissima Sarg.
Salix nigra Marsh. var. brevifolia Andersson
Salix nigra Marsh. var. brevijulis Andersson
Salix nigra Marsh. var. falcata (Pursh) Torr.
Salix nigra Marsh. var. lindheimeri C.K. Schneid.
Salix nigra Marsh. var. longifolia Andersson
Salix nigra Marsh. var. marginata (Wimm. ex Andersson) Andersson
Salix purshiana Spreng.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of black willow
is Salix nigra Marsh. Recognized varieties are Salix nigra var. nigra
Marsh., Salix nigra var. altissima Sarg., Salix nigra var. falcata (Pursh.)
Torr., and Salix nigra var. lindheimeri. Salix nigra, Salix gooddingii Ball,
and Salix amygdaloides Anderss. are closely related taxa commonly refer-
red to as the black willows. The three species are not easily distinguished
morphologically, and in fact, some authorities consider Salix gooddingii
to be Salix nigra var. vallicola Dudley or Salix nigra var. venulosa
(Anderss.) Bebb. Salix amygdaloides is sometimes considered to be Salix
nigra var. amygdaloides Anderss. For our purposes, however, these
varieties will be considered as separate species. Salix nigra hybridizes
with Salix amygdaloides (Salix X glatfelteri Schneider); Salix alba (Salix
X hankensonii Dode); and Salix lucida (Salix X schneider Boivin). The
Atlas of Virginia Flora lists Salix nigra without variety; variety nigra
will be assumed.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Black willow is a
small (sometimes shrublike) to large, short-lived, deciduous tree. It is
fast growing and may reach maturity within 30 years. This tree usually
obtains a height of 66 feet (20 m) but can grow up to 138 feet (42 m) on
some sites. The massive trunks are usually leaning and are often divided.
The bark is thick and deeply divided into furrows separating thick, scaly
ridges. The crown is broad and open with stout branches. Twigs are slen-
der and easily detached. Leaf blades are variable in size, the larger to 4.7
inches (12 cm) long. Black willow roots are shallow and laterally exten-
REGENERATION PROCESS: Sexual reproduction: Black willows
start producing seed when they are about 10 years old. Optimum seed-
bearing age is from 25 to 75 years. The trees have good seed crops
almost every year. producing an average of 2.3 million seeds per pound
(5 million/kg). Seeds ripen 45 to 60 days after catkins are pollinated by
insects or wind. As the seeds fall, the long silky hairs act as wings to
carry the seeds long distances. The seeds are also disseminated by water.
Seeds are not dormant and germination capacity is usually high. Viability
is greatly reduced by only a few days of dry conditions. Very moist bare
mineral soil is best for germination and early development. Once seedlings
are established, full light promotes vigorous growth. Seedlings grow rapidly
in a favorable environment, often exceeding 4 feet (1.2 m) in the first year.
Low ground cover competition and shade, however, greatly hampers
Root stocks of very young black willow trees sprout prolifically. Propaga-
tion by cutting is the usual method of artifical regeneration.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Black willow is most common on river
margins where it occupies the lower, wetter, and often less sandy sites. It
is also common in swamps, sloughs, swales, gullies, and drainage ditches,
growing anywhere light and moisture conditions are favorable. It flour-
ishes at or slightly below water level and is not appreciably damaged by
flooding and silting. On a flooded site in southern Illinois, black willow
survived 32 or more days of complete inundation. Black willow, however,
is not drought tolerant. Whole stands may die out when water tables lower
and soil drys up.
Black willow grows on a variety of soils but develops best in fine silt or
clay in relatively stagnant water. It thrives in saturated or poorly drained
soil from which other hardwoods are excluded. Black willow is commonly
found in moderately acidic (lower pH limit is 4.5) to near neutral soils.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Black willow is a pioneer or early seral spe-
cies commonly found along the edges of rivers and streams, mud flats, and
floodplains. This tree is very shade intolerant and usually grows in dense,
even-aged stands. Black willow stands periodically stagnate and are even-
tually replaced by more shade-tolerant trees such as American elm,
sycamore (Platanus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), boxelder, and sweet gum
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Black willow flowering begins in Feb-
ruary in the southern portion of its range and extends through late June
at the northern limits. The catkins usually appear at the time of or im-
mediately preceding leaf emergence. Seeds ripen and fall in April to July.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Black willow is found throughout the
eastern United States, adjacent parts of Canada, and Mexico. Its range
extends west from southern New Brunswick and central Maine to
Quebec, southern Ontario, central Michigan, southeastern Minnesota,
and eastern North Dakota. It occurs south and west to the Rio Grande
just below its confluence with the Pecos River; and east along the Gulf
Coast through the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia. Black willow
has been introduced in Utah where it is now common along many stream-
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Black willow
occurs as a codominant in some early seral floodplain communities. It
codominates with sandbar willow (Salix exigua) on floodplains having
the greatest water depths and the longest hydroperiods of any of the
shallow freshwater swamps of the southern United States. Black willow
also codominates with eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) in the
lower Mississippi Valley. Black willow is commonly associated with
the following species: eastern cottonwood, red maple (Acer rubrum),
black spruce (Picea mariana), river birch (Betula nigra), American
sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), boxelder (Acer negundo), red mul-
berry (Morus rubra), swamp privet (Forestiera acuminata), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), water elm (Planera aquatica), and American
elm (Ulmus americana).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Birds eat the buds and flowering catkins of
black willow; deer eat the twigs and leaves; and rodents eat the bark and
buds. The yellow-bellied sapsucker feeds on the sap. Black willow is some-
what tolerant of grazing and browsing. Black willow/cottonwood stands are
also commonly used as nesting habitat by some small nongame bird species.
Black willow was commonly used in soil stabilization projects in early
efforts at erosion control. Its flood tolerance and the ease with which it
establishes from cuttings continue to make it an excellent species for
reducing erosion of streambanks, bars, and islands. Post-sized willow
cuttings have been rooted for use in flood projects to prevent gullies from
Black willow is the largest and only commercially important willow in
North America. The wood is light, usually straight grained, and moderately
high in shock resistance. It stains and finishes well but is relatively undur-
able. The wood was once used extensively for artifical limbs because it is lightweight, does not splinter easily, and holds its shape well. It is still used
for making boxes and crates, furniture core stock, turned pieces, table tops,
wooden novelties, doors, cabinets, polo balls, and toys. Black willow is also
used for pulp.
Ancient pharmacopoeia recognized the bark and leaves of willow as useful
in the treatment of rheumatism. Pioneering settlers boiled the bark of black
willow for its purgative and vermin-destroying powers. In 1829, the natural
glucoside, salicin, which is closely related chemically to aspirin, was isolated
from willow. Black willow was once used as a source of charcoal for gun-
Crooked Run Valley