Content Detail

Goat willow is a small, compact tree or large shrub with attractive, long male catkins appearing before the leaves in early spring.

  • Family (English) Willow
  • Family (botanic) Salicaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early spring, mid spring
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Open, Oval, Upright
  • Growth rate Fast

Size and form:

A small erect tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 25 feet high and 12 to 15 feet wide. It is often confused with true pussy willow (Salix discolor).

Native geographic location and habitat:

It is native to Europe and Asia.

Bark color and texture:

Goat willow has slender upright stems that yellow-brown to dark brown.

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

Its’ leaves are alternate, broadly elliptical, two to four inches long and one to two inches wide. It has entire or slightly toothed margins that are dark green above and gray pubescent beneath.

Flower arrangement size and shape:

These are dioecious or separate male and female plants. Male flowers are gray, oval shaped and turn a showy, silky soft, yellow when open. Female flowers are slightly longer and turn green when open. The female flowers are not as showy as the male flowers. Willows are wind pollinated.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

The seed is a two-valved capsule.

Plant care:

It grows best in full sun in moist, well-drained soil, although it is tolerant of wet soil once established. Prune goat willow in late winter to early spring. It can be pruned into a hedge. Cut it back to ground every three to five years to maintain size. This shrub is shallow-rooted and can develop surface roots with age.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance:

Mildew, blights, leaf spots, cankers, borer, and aphids are all common pests.  The tree is weak-wooded, and the leaves and stems can be messy. It is resistant to deer, wet soils, and black walnut toxicity.

Weeping Goat Willow (Salix caprea ‘Pendula’):

A weeping form that grows six to 10 feet high and six to eight feet wide. It has showy, whitish-silver catkins in the spring.


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