Content Detail

Black willow is a native tree that can tolerate very wet sites. It is fast growing, but may live for only 40 or 50 years. Its wood is brittle and the tree may require regular pruning.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Willow
  • Family (botanic) Salicaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium tree (25-40 feet), Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 30-60 feet
  • Mature width 30-60 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Oval
  • Growth rate Fast
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Excessive sucker growth, Highly susceptible to ice damage, Roots prone to invading sewer pipes, Weak wood and branch structure
  • Wildlife Browsers, Insect pollinators, Nesting birds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

Black willow is native to the eastern United States, from Texas to Maine and in the neighboring portions of Mexico and Canada. It is common in wet areas. C-Value: 4.

Bark color and texture:

The black willow has gray-brown bark that is furrowed into shaggy plates at maturity.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Simple, alternate leaves are up to 6 inches long and are finely toothed along the edges. Leaves are medium green, changing to yellow-green in autumn.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious). The black willow flowers are not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit occurs on female trees only. Hanging clusters of dry capsules open to release numerous seeds attached to cottony fluff.

Plant care:

Willows are weak-wooded and prone to storm damage. They generally require regular pruning.

List of pests and diseases:

Canker diseases are common on this tree. The black willow’s aggressive roots can get into drainage systems and sewers and cause problems. The tree is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.


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