BLUE ARCTIC WILLOW - SALIX PURPUREA

Common name: blue arctic willow, purpleosier willow

Scientific name:
Family: Salicaceae
Genus: Salix
Species: purpurea

Hardiness Zone: 3-6
Height: 6-10' (sometimes to 20')
Width: 6-10'

Common Characteristics: 

Blue arctic willow is a medium to tall introduced shrub growing 10 to 20 feet high. It features blue-green leave in pairs, almost opposite that are elliptical in shape and are 2 to 4 inches long. Catkins are small, in almost opposite pairs, and mature in spring before the leaves come out. Male and female flowers are found on separate plants. Light green flowers bloom in late April, eventually with ornamentally insignificant fruit. The stems are smooth and slender. They are purplish in the first year's growth but later change to gray or olive-gray. Growth is rapid, reaching from 2 to 8 feet in two years. It often reaches a full height of 15-20 feet in five years. On nutrient-rich sites, it can grow up to 25 feet.

Where it Grows:

Well-drained to saturated soils are most suitable for this species. It is tolerant of standing water. It is adaptable to poor soils, soils of various pH, dry soils, and drought. Does not do well in areas with intense heat and high humidity. Prefers full sun to partial shade. 

How it's Used:

This willow is used in erosion control along streambanks resulting from flood and ice damage. The malleable branches are useful in vineyards for tying up grapevines and also for basket making. It makes a great companion plant next to mid-sized or taller ornamental grasses in landscapes and gardens. It can be pruned back to 4"-2' from the ground if it becomes too large, and a dwarf variety (5' at maturity) is available for use as an ornamental.

Ecosystem Services:

Blue arctic willow provides cover and shelter for small animals. It is also browsed by deer, beaver, and rabbits and nesting sites for birds.

Where it is Native To:

It is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Central Asia but introduced across the eastern and mid-west US.

Known Varieties and Their Traits:

  • Dwarf basket willow (Salix purpurea 'Gracilis'):  Grows 6 feet high and wide with blue-green leaves and slender twigs.
  • Dwarf Arctic Willow (Salix purpurea 'Nana'): Striking blue-green leaves and compact habit reaching 4 to 5 feet high. 

Problems:

Willow blight which is a fatal disease complex brought on by two fungi affecting leaves and stems. Willow plants that have been damaged by summer hailstorms are prime candidates for willow blight.

References:

"Purpleosier Willow Salix purpurea". USDA Plant Guide. https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_sapu2.pdf

"Salix purpurea - Purpleosier Willow". Ohio State University Plant Facts. https://plantfacts.osu.edu/pdf/0247-989.pdf

"Salix purpurea Purpleosier Willow". University of Connecticut Plant Database. http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/detail.php?pid=447

'Purple basket willow'. Morton Arboretum. Found online: https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/purple-basket-willow

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purple osier willow leaves
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