The black willow tree is one of the largest trees in the willow family, which includes over 100 types of trees. In fact, black willow trees are the only member of the willow family that grows large enough to be harvested commercially. These trees are important to the stabilisation of stream banks and can often be found on sandbars. The black willow also provides shelter and food for many woodland animals.
Trunk and Bark
According to the Fairfax County Public Schools website, the black willow may be identified by its dark brown bark with black ridges. The trees often grow multiple trunks, making it a sprawling, lush tree.
The leaves of the black willow tree mark the tree as one of the willow family. Due to the many similar characteristics between various types of willow trees, they are often difficult to separate from one another, according to the Oster Miller website. Black willow leaves are broad, flat, simple-looking leaves, according to the Olpin website. They can be identified by their narrow, tapered shape and small teeth around leaf's edge. Black willows also grow stipules, which appear to be smaller leaves growing from the base of the leaf stem, according to Olpin.
Fruit and Flowers
The black willow also grows an interestingly shaped flower and fruit. The flower, which is yellow-green in colour, is called a catkin, according to the Fairfax County Public Schools. The catkin resembles a long, narrow spiny creature, similar to a caterpillar. The fruit of the black willow are hairy, green seeds housed in a reddish-brown capsule, according to Fairfax County Public Schools.
The black willow tree reaches a variety of heights. Along swamp banks, trees are typically smaller, between 30 to 50 feet, according to Olpin. With ideal growing conditions and regular maintenance, the trees may reach 70 to 140 feet, suggests Oster Miller.
Commercial and Historical Usage
According to the Oster Miller website, the black willow tree has had many commercial and historical usages. Today, the black willow is harvested to produce wicker furniture. The wood of a black willow is light and weak, but does not splinter, making it useful for producing wicker furniture. Throughout history the wood was used in artificial limbs, packing boxes, toys and panelling. The Patowatomi Indians made scarlet dye and tea from the roots of the black willow.
Growth in the Wild
In the wild, the black willow grows along stream banks, in marsh lands and bottom lands. According to the Olpin website, the willow tree grows best in sunny areas with moist soil and is important to the structure of many stream banks. Oster Miller states that the black willow grows naturally in the Eastern United States from the Atlantic Coast westward to Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas.
Food and Shelter
The Fairfax County Public Schools website notes many animals that use the black willow tree for food or shelter. White tailed deer, rabbits, rodents and beavers eat the black willow's bark, twigs and leaves. Bees, butterflies and insects feed on the nectar produced by the tree. The black willow provides shelter for a variety of woodland animals such as birds and small mammals, especially raccoons and woodpeckers.