By: Lydia Voth
Black willow, scientifically known as Salix nigra, is the largest and most important North American willow. It takes a tree form, unlike many other native willows. A pioneer species, this tree is fast-growing and with a shorter lifespan (40 to 50 years). In a natural setting, black willow can be found in alluvial soils, on floodplains and around lakes and ponds. It’s dense and shallow root system requires a lot of moisture. Thus, it will require a lot of water if planted in an urban environment! It will grow to a height of 30 to 60 feet. Black willow is a sunlight-loving tree, but can deal with partial shade as well. Its seeds are wind disseminated and its flowers bloom in April-May.
A plethora of characteristics make black willow a good choice for residential/landscape plantings. It can tolerate poor soil conditions such as acidity, alkalinity, salt, and slow drainage (but cannot handle drought). It has visually appealing bark and provides habitat for birds. However, black willow is not without its faults. It is prone to extensive root suckering and its roots can invade pipes. Additionally, it has a weak branch structure and is prone to ice damage.Black willow is also beneficial in the wild. Its root system makes it a good tree for stabilizing eroding soil along banks and preventing flooding damage. The buds, twigs, and bark are good browse for wildlife such as beavers, deer, and rabbits. The flowers and foliage attract butterflies and birds.
In the past, black willow wood was used to make artificial limbs because it doesn’t splinter easily and is lightweight. The wood was ground up and used in making gunpowder during the American Revolution! Structurally, its wood is very weak.. Other uses for the wood include pulp, crates, furniture, and table tops. The young stems can also be used for basket making. As with other willow species, the bark and leaves were historically used to treat rheumatism. Salicin, the key ingredient of aspirin, comes from willow as well.
All photos and references are used for educational purposes only.
- Pitcher, J.A. & McKnight J.S. “Salix nigra Marsh Black Willow.” Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Dec. 1990. Web. 29 Dec. 2017. <http://bit.ly/2DiTHEe>
- “Salix nigra.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Dec. 2017. <http://bit.ly/2mGujgD>
- “Black Willow.” The Morton Arboretum. The Morton Arboretum, 2017. Web. 29 Dec. 2017. <http://bit.ly/2mP0Bqx>
- Farmartin. “Black Willow catkins along Colonial Lake in Colonial Lake Park in Lawrence, New Jersey.” Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons, 04 May, 2013. Digital Image. 29 Dec. 2017. <http://bit.ly/2pXHIFJ>
- Marlin, Bruce. “Salix nigra Morton.” Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons. 12 July, 2007. Digital Image. 29 Dec. 2017. <http://bit.ly/2lsYxTw>