Content Detail

Prairie willow is a dwarf, shrubby willow reaching 4 to 6 feet high, but can grow as high as 10 feet with branches reaching low to the ground. Often found in upland open prairies, along roadsides, and disturbed sandy soil. One of the first shrubs to flower in the spring before the leaves emerge.

  • Family (English) Willow
  • Family (botanic) Salicaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago)
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Road salt
  • Season of interest early spring, mid spring
  • Flower color and fragrance White
  • Shape or form Round, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Fast

Size & form:

A rounded, medium-sized shrub reaching 4 to 6 feet high, with a suckering habit

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 6. Found throughout the eastern and central U.S. in prairie remnants, disturbed soils, sandy soils and rocky bluffs.

Bark color and texture:

Slender stems are dark brown covered with whitish hairs.

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

Alternate, long linear, lancilate leaves up to 4 inches and 3/4 inches wide. Margins are wavy with few rounded teeth. The leaf tip is pointed and it is a medium gray-green on the upper surface and silvery-gray beneath.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Dioecious, male and female flowers (catkins) on separate plants. Flowers before the leaves emerge.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Dry dehiscent capsules have a pinkish cast with silky hairs. Tiny seeds are attached to white fluff.

Plant care:

Prairie willow requires full sun in a dry to moist soil. It is tolerant of clay to sandy loam soils.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Susceptible to leaf blight, canker, borers, scale, aphids.


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift