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black willow (Salix nigra)






















black willow
swamp willow
southwestern black willow
Gulf black willow
scythe-leaved 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.




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.


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
(Liquidambar styraciflua).


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-




Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.


       Bleak House
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
       South Ridge/North Ridge
       Gap Run
       Woodpecker Lane

       Sherman's Mill
       Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain

       Fish Pond



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-



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