How to Identify Different Willow Trees

Written by john lindell
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There are more than 100 different types of willows native to the North American continent, with about 40 of them able to grow tall enough to be trees. Willows typically occur near water, preferring moist soil. There is very little difference between many of these willow trees, making identification of them problematic. The geographical location, the shape of the leaves and the colour of the bark can help you distinguish some willow trees from others.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Guide to North American trees

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  1. 1

    Purchase a guide to the trees of North America and refer to the accompanying range maps to determine which willow species occur in your area. For example, the arroyo willow, Pacific willow and Mackenzie willow are all willows that grow in the Far West, while the pussy willow tree is a northern species. Knowing where a willow can grow allows you to eliminate certain types when trying to identify one.

  2. 2

    Note the height and width of the willow tree you want to identify. Some such as the peachleaf willow may attain heights of 60 feet, while others like the sandbar willow rarely approach 30. This can help you narrow down the species as you attempt to classify a willow tree.

  3. 3

    Try to determine a willow species by the size and shape of its leaves. Most willows possess lanceolate leaves, which are long and narrow with a point at one end. Some willows like the red willow have 7-inch-long leaves; others like the pussy willow are 4 inches long. Pay attention to the edges of the leaves, looking to see if they have "teeth" or are smooth.

  4. 4

    Look at the colour and texture of the bark. Hooker willow has a light reddish-coloured bark, while a type like the arroyo willow is a grey-brown colour. Many willows have a bark with deep ridges, but some are more "scaly."

  5. 5

    Study the flowers of the willow tree. Willows have both female and male flowers, and the female flowers eventually develop into capsule-shaped fruit. The fruit grows on a long stem and contains hairy seeds. Measure the length of the flowers and try to match them to different willow species.

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