Types of Willow Trees: Weeping Willows, Willow Shrubs, Dwarf Willows and More (With Pictures and Name)

weeping willow trees

Willows include a wide variety of plants from large weeping willow trees to dwarf willows and low-growing creeping shrubs. All types of willows thrive in wet, boggy soil and some willow species also do well in dry soil. Willow trees and shrubs grow well in temperate and cold climates. Because of their graceful shape and elegance, weeping willows are popular landscape garden trees.

Willows are a type of deciduous plant belonging to the family Salicaceae in the genus Salix. Depending on the type of species, other names for willows include osiers (narrow-leaved shrubs) and sallows (broad-leaved trees and shrubs). There are over 400 species of willow that grow in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

How to Identify Willow Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs in the willow family are generally easy to identify. Apart from sallows and osiers, willow trees have lanceolate leaves (lance-shaped leaves) that have light feather veins. Closely looking at the leaf edges, you will see that they are gently serrated. Another way to identify willow trees in deciduous forests, parks, or green spaces is that they are usually the first trees to have leaves in the spring.

In this article, you will learn about the many types of willow trees. Pictures of willow trees, descriptions of their features, and their scientific names will help identify different species of willows.

Interesting Facts About Weeping Willow Trees

Weeping willow trees are also fast-growing with aggressive roots that search out moisture. It isn’t recommended to plant willows near underground lines such as water, gas, or electricity.

Willow trees can have great height differences: the Dwarf Willow only grows as high as 5 ft. (1.5 m). Whereas the Weeping Willow can grow up to 82 feet (25 m) in height.

The Latin name for the willow group is Salix. This scientific name also gives its name to a chemical compound found in willow plants called salicylic acid. This is the precursor to the pain-relieving drug aspirin.

Another interesting fact about willows is that willow wood is strong yet pliable. Wood from willow trees is used to make furniture, musical instruments, sports bats, and toys. Also, willow rods can be used to make woven wicker baskets.

Weeping Willow Trees

Most people can easily recognize types of weeping willow trees. Their long cascading branches give the tree a moody, yet elegant and graceful appearance. Weeping willows are good in landscapes beside streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds where they help to stabilize the ground.

Most species of weeping willows grow well in zones 4 or 5 through to 9.

Types of Weeping Willow Trees with Pictures for Easy Identification

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

weeping willow tree

Weeping willow tree can be easily identified by its droopy branches

The most common and easily-recognizable type of weeping willow is the Babylon willow, and it often just called the weeping willow. Although its scientific name seems to suggest it’s from the Middle East, the common weeping willow is native to China.

This weeping willow is a large tree with fast growth rate that can grow to between 62 and 82 ft. (20 – 25 m) tall. It has pendulous branches that give the tree its classic weeping look. Looking up close, you will see the leaf stems are a yellowish-brown color and leaves are narrow and elongated.

Weeping willows also have an interesting color in winter. After shedding their golden-yellow leaves in the fall, yellow drooping branches make this tree interesting to look at.

Weeping Golden Willow (Salix × sepulcralis ‘Chrysocoma’)

weeping golden willow

The golden weeping willow is a hardy type of willow tree

One of the most popular types of weeping willow is the golden willow tree. This is a hybrid grown by crossing the S. babylonica and S. alba. This species is much hardier than then common weeping willow.

This weeping tree has arching cascading branches that droop straight down and are a light olive-green color. The golden weeping willow gets its name from the lanceolate young yellow-green leaves. As the season progresses, these leaves turn a glossy green color.

Similar to the Babylon weeping willow, the golden willow has beautiful brightly colored shoots in winter. This species of weeping tree can grow to about 72 ft. (22 m) tall.

White Weeping Willow (Salix alba ‘Tristis’)

white weeping willow

‘Tristis’ is a popular cultivar of weeping willow tree with golden yellow branches

The white willow is a deciduous weeping tree that has a stout trunk and branches that droop. The white willow is also a type of golden weeping willow tree that is sometimes mistaken for the golden weeping willow ‘Chrysocoma.’ Comparing pictures of both willow species, you will see that the ‘Tristis’ has a fatter trunk.

Often seen growing alongside rivers, streams, and ponds, the white weeping willow has thin yellow cascading stems. These droop down so much that they almost reach the ground. Its foliage is narrow lance-shaped leaves that turn from bright green to dark green then to golden yellow.

After the leaves shed in the fall, beautiful yellow twigs are left dangling, forming the classic weeping willow shape.

Growing to between 50 and 70 ft. (15 – 21 m) tall, many botanists regard this species as one of the best types of weeping willows.

Wisconsin Weeping Willow (Salix x blanda and Salix x pendulina)

Wisconsin weeping willow

The Wisconsin weeping willow is a small type of willow tree

Another popular type of weeping tree in North America is the Wisconsin weeping willow. As its scientific name suggests, this has pendulous branches that give the tree a sad weeping appearance.

Like most species of weeping willows, this has yellowish-brown branches, narrow long lanceolate leaves, and small flowering catkins (a small fuzzy flower cluster). Compared to the Babylon weeping willow, the Wisconsin species is shorter and has a stout trunk. The Wisconsin willow only grows to between 20 and 40 ft. (6 – 12 m) tall. The spread of the tree can be up to the same size.

Because of the aggressive growing nature of the roots, weeping willows are not recommended as a landscape tree for backyards. Also, the weak stems mean that the willows are a “messy” tree that easily shed their branches.

Types of Willow Trees with Pictures for Easy Identification

Not all types of willow have a weeping growth habit. Let’s look in detail at species of willow that are types of trees or shrubs with branches that don’t droop or cascade.

Pussy Willow / Goat Willow (Salix caprea and Salix discolor)

goat willow

Pussy willows (or goat willows) are small flowering willow trees

The most common species of pussy willow is the Salix caprea in Europe and the Salix discolor in North America. These related species are better known by their common names, pussy willow or goat willow.

The furry catkins are the reason smaller species of willows are referred to as pussy willows. These fuzzy “buds” start off as a gray-white color and they turn yellow as tiny flowers blossom. They get the name due to their likeness to tiny cats. These catkins appear in early spring and usually precede the leaves.

Goat willows have broader leaves than most willows and are also classified as a type of sollow. Like most plants in the willow family, pussy and goat willows grow in damp environments. They can grow to between 26 and 33 ft. (8 – 10 m) high.

Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana)

scouler willow

The small Scouler’s willow tree has a shrubby look

This species of willow is classed as a large shrub or small tree that grows in cold, dry environments. Scouler’s willow has multiple straight stems that usually grow to between 6.5 and 22 ft. (2 – 7 m). In some conditions, the stems can grow much taller.

The stems of Scouler’s willow are dark brown with lanceolate leaves that have a pointed base. These green leaves can grow to between 2” to 4.7” (5 – 12.5 cm) long and they are identified by their wavy-toothed edges.

Due to the pussy willow-like catkins, other names for Scouler’s willow include western pussy willow, fire willow, and black willow.

Hooker’s Willow (Salix hookeriana)

hooker's willow

Hooker’s willow grows in coastal areas and has a bushy look

Hooker’s willow is a type of willow shrub or small tree that grows in coastal regions and along the coast. Because it grows near coasts, it is also called the dune willow or coastal willow.

This species of willow has a bushy growth habit and can grow up to 26 ft. (8 m) tall. Long green oval-shaped leaves measuring up to 4.3” (11 cm) long create dense foliage on the plant. As with all types of pussy willow, Hooker’s willow has fuzzy flowering catkins in spring.

You can often find Hooker’s willow growing on the west coast of North America and in floodplains, marshes, and canyons.

Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides)

peachleaf willow

Peachleaf willow is a fast growing type of willow tree

As the common name of this willow suggests, the small to medium-sized tree has leaves that look like peach tree leaves. Depending on the species, the willow tree can have just one trunk or be a multi-stemmed tree.

The tree can grow to between 13 and 66 ft. (4 – 20 m) and thrives in the grasslands of North America. Some species can also grow up to 90 ft. (27 m) tall. The peachleaf willow has long lanceolate leaves that are olive green and have slightly serrated edges. The underside of the leaves is a pale whitish color

This is a fast-growing type of willow tree; however, it doesn’t last a long time.

Narrowleaf Willow (Salix exigua)

narrowleaf willow

Narrowleaf willow has a silvery-green foliage

The narrow-leaf willow is a deciduous shrub that grows throughout much of North America. As its name implies, this willow shrub has long narrow leaves. Other names for this species include coyote willow or sandbar willow.

What are the identifying features of the narrowleaf willow? The long woody stems can grow to between 13 and 23 ft. (4 – 7 m). This densely growing shrub has leaves that are up to 4.7” (12 cm) long and between 0.079 and 0.39” (2 – 10 mm) wide. Long furry catkins measuring 4” (10 cm) long appear in spring.

The strong flexible stems of narrowleaf willows can be used to make baskets, poles, and even string.

Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)

Pacific willow tree

Pacific willow is fast growing deciduous tree

Also called black willow or whiplash willow, this willow species is a large shrub or small tree. Pacific willows are often found growing in wetlands in northern and western North America.

The identifying feature to the Pacific willow is its dark bark and long glossy lanceolate green leaves. The tips of the leaves curve which is why it gets the name whiplash willow. With this willow species, the fuzzy yellow catkins appear after the leaves.

The S. lucida species grow between 13 and 36 ft. (4 – 11 m) tall.

Bebb’s Willow (Salix bebbiana)

bebb willow

Bebb’s Willow is a fast growing hardy shrubby tree

This willow shrub has a tremendous growth rate and quickly produces multiple woody stems with thick foliage. Compared to other shrubby willows, Bebb’s willow leaves aren’t as long and may just be 5” (12 cm) long. However, the dull green leaves have the classic willow lanceolate shape and pointed tip.

This willow species is also classified in a group of diamond willows. These get their name from distinct diamond markings that appear on the twigs. The stems of Bebb’s willow can grow to between 10 and 30 ft. (3 – 9 m).

Bebb’s willow is known by other names such as gray willow, long-beaked willow, beaked willow, and red willow.

Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’)

corckscrew willow

Corkscrew willow is characterized by its upright twisting branches

The willow species S. matsudana is the classic Chinese weeping willow that is popular in many countries. This cultivar, the ‘Tortuosa’ is called the corkscrew willow due to its spiral twisting branches that have an upright form unlike weeping willows.

The corkscrew willow is a large tree and isn’t classed as a deciduous shrub. It can grow to between 20 and 40 ft. (6 – 12 m) and is identified by its large number of crooked stems.

Because of the twisting nature of the tree, this is also a popular dwarf variety of willow and is popular among bonsai enthusiasts.

Dappled Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’)

dappled willow

The dappled willow is a type of variegated small willow tree

One of the fascinating features of the dappled willow ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ is its variegated long, thin leaves that are green with blotches of white and pink.

The dappled willow is a small shrub or shrubby tree that grows to between 6.5 – 20 m (2 – 6 m). The colorful willow leaves are 0.8” to 4” (2 – 10 cm) long and only up to 0.8” (2 cm) wide. Unlike most other species of willow, leaves are arranged on stems in opposite pairs rather than alternately.

After the leaves shed in the fall, the branches turn a nice red color in winter.

Some other names for this variegated species of willow include tricolor willow, Nishiki willow, or Japanese variegated willow.

Purple Willow (Salix purpurea)

purple willow

Purple willow has young purple shoots and purple-red flower clusters

Also known as the purple osier willow, this species of willow gets its name from the purple shoots when they are young. As the shrubby willow tree matures, the stems turn pale gray.

This is a small willow shrub that doesn’t usually grow taller than 9.8 ft. (3 m). Leaves are typical of a willow plant being lanceolate in shape and having an elongated look. There are a few unique features of the purple willow. The catkins are smaller than most willow plants and are purple or red rather than white or yellow.

There is also a cultivar S. prupurea ‘Pendula’ which has arching cascading branches.

White Willow (Salix alba)

white willow

The common white willow tree has underside pale leaves on its upright branches

The common white willow is a large willow tree that is native to Europe and Central Asia. The common and scientific names come from the white underside of the thin narrow leaves. This S. alba differs from the S. alba ‘Tristis’ because the common white willow doesn’t weep or have drooping branches.

Compared to other species of willow, the white willow leaves are paler and are covered in fine silky hairs. The medium-sized tree can grow to between 32 to 98 ft. (10 – 30 m) and its gray-brown fissured trunk is up to 3.2 ft. (1 m) in diameter.

Other S. alba cultivars include ‘Caerulea’ which is grown for its lightweight, extremely strong wood and the ‘Vitellina’ golden willow which has attractive yellow shoots.

Scarlet Willow (Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’)

scarlet willow

Scarlet willow has ornamental orange to red branches in winter

The scarlet willow is a white willow cultivar that has attractive red stems in the winter. This medium-sized deciduous willow tree can also grow as a stunning multi-stemmed type of landscape shrub.

The Britzensis scarlet willow grows new stems during the winter that are orange to deep red. The leaves appearing in late spring and summer are narrow and thin in the shape of a lance head. These green leaves turn golden yellow in the fall and then new reddish willow stems appear.

This willow cultivar is regarded as one of the most beautiful types of willow trees with colored bark.

Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)

yellow willow

The fast growing yellow willow thrives in wet habitats

The yellow willow is a large shrubby tree that grows along rivers and streams and on the banks of lakes. Yellow willows are found in many wet habitats in North America.

The green leaves grow on reddish stems in an alternate pattern. The dull green lance-shaped leaves have an oval shape to them and can reach 4.3″ (11 cm) long.

The fact that this willow grows quickly, easily reproduces and has an intricate root system makes this a popular tree to plant where soil erosion is a problem.

Dwarf Weeping Willow Trees

If you have a little space in your garden and you love the droopy look of weeping willows, than you can choose dwarf weeping willows.

Dwarf Weeping Willow (Salix integra ‘Pendula Waterfall’)

The willow ‘Pendula Waterfall’ has gently cascading branches. This is a hardy willow tree that grows well in any type of soil. Its pendulous branches have bright green leaves that are slightly twisted. This is a perfect weeping tree for patios, balconies, and tiny gardens.

The dwarf weeping willow only grows as high as 5 ft. (1.5 m) in 20 years.

Dwarf weeping willow ‘Kilmarnock’

Related to the ‘Pendula Waterfall’ is the small ‘Kilmarnock’ weeping willow. This dwarf weeping deciduous tree grows to between 4 and 8 ft. (1.2 – 2.4 m) and has a distinct umbrella shape. The arching cascading branches form a canopy and the branches don’t reach the ground.

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