The genus Salix, as recognised in 2019, is comprised of probably more than 300 distinct species (over 500 if you also accept hybrid species). Many of these species are very similar, sometimes being separated as much by native range as by any other characteristic. Hybridization between species is common, when this is coupled with the high genetic and morphological variability within many species, and different levels of ploidy, the complexity of this genus is clear.
Misidentification of specimens is not rare, even amongst botanists, and many records of plant use will often equally apply to one or more related species that were not seen as distinct when the report was made. Equally, several species not included in the database will be found to have a range of these uses. In general, all species in the genus have medicinal uses, especially as antiinflammatories, analgesics and febrifuges, they can all serve as emergency foods, many of them have flexible stems and can be used in basket making, and many of them can be planted in moist to wet conditions in order to stabilize the soil and improve wildlife habitats.
Salix depressa Fr.
Salix floderusii (Wahlenb.) Nakai
Salix hsinganica Y.L.Chang & Skvortsov
Salix ilectica Y.L.Chou
Salix livida cinerascens Wahlenb.
Salix livida rostrata (Andersson) Dippel
Salix macropoda Stschegl.
Salix orotchonorum Kimura
Salix perrostrata Rydb.
Salix rostrata capreifolia Fernald
Salix rostrata luxurians Fernald
Salix rostrata perrostrata (Rydb.) Fernald
Salix rostrata projecta Fernald
Salix starkeana bebbiana (Sarg.) Youngberg
Salix vagans cinerascens (Wahlenb.) Andersson
Salix xerophila Flod.
Common Name: Beak Willow
Salix bebbiana is a much-branched, deciduous shrub or a small, usually multi-stemmed tree with a dense, bushy top; it can grow from 2 - 8 metres tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a medicine and source of materials. The plant is harvested on a commercial basis for its wood, which is of higher value than that from most willow species.. The plant is used to stabilize and reclaim soils and to provide shelter from strong winds, it is also grown as an ornamental[
Salix bebbiana is widespread and while it is possibly declining in parts of its range, it is not thought that any global population decline is likely to meet (or be close to meeting) the threshold for Vulnerable. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2016)[
N. America - Alaska to Nunavut, south to California, Illinois and Maryland; Eurasia - Scandanavia, through European Russia to Kazakhstan; east Siberia
]. Moist rich soils along streams, lakes and swamps, but also forming dense thickets in open meadows[
]. Found at elevations up to 3,000 metres[
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Salix bebbiana is a very cold-hardy plant, able to tolerate temperatures down to around -30°c when fully dormant.
Salix species generally require a sunny position and abhor dryness at the roots. Whilst many can be found in wet or boggy soils, and prefer a damp, heavy soil, most will grow well in a range of moist but well-drained soils so long as they are fairly deep[
]. This species is usually found in the wild on moist sandy or gravelly soils but is adapted to a wide variety of soil textures. It will tolerate moderately alkaline soils but does poorly in extremely acidic or alkaline conditions, preferring a pH in the range 5.5 - 7.5[
A fast-growing but short-lived species[
The plant responds very well to coppicing[
The flowers are dioecious, male and female flowers being produced on separate plants. If seed is required then at least one plant of each sex need to be growing in reasonable proximity[
Hybridization in the genus is common, especially when species are brought together in cultivation[
This species is closely related to Salix starkeana, differing mainly in its more vigorous habit[
Salix species are unusual in as much as, although they produce their flowers in catkins, these are insect rather than wind pollinated. Indeed, the flowers of many species are excellent sources of nectar for bees and other insects, especially valuable are those species that flower early in the growing season[
The roots of Salix species are often vigorous and extensive and can range some distance from the plant. Several species are known to cause problems by growing into drains and drainage systems as their roots seek out moisture[
Species in this genus are often notably susceptible to honey fungus[
Growing in harsh and difficult environments, as many willows do (they can be found within the arctic circle, on mountains and even in the desert), Salix species have often been utilized as an emergency food source. They are, indeed, often a highly favoured food source for birds and mammals and, whilst few species would lay claim to culinary excellence for humans, the young shoots and inner bark are both edible eaten either raw or cooked[
We have no specific information for this species, but the inner bark can be eaten fresh or it can be dried, ground into a powder and then added to cereal flour for use in making bread etc. It has a very bitter flavour, The young shoots are also somewhat bitter and not very appetizing - unless you are really hungry of course![
A poultice of the chewed root inner bark has been applied to a deep cut[
The shredded inner bark has been used as sanitary napkins to 'heal a woman's insides'[
]. A poultice of the damp inner bark has been applied to the skin over a broken bone[
A decoction of the branches has been taken by women for several months after childbirth to increase the blood flow[
A poultice of the bark and sap has been applied as a wad to bleeding wounds[
The bark, twigs, leaves, leaf buds, and flower buds of all Salix species contain phenolic glycosides, particularly salicin and salicortin (which breaks down when the plant material is damaged to produce salicin). The quantity of these compounds can vary greatly between species, and even within geographical races of the same species. Taste is a simple test to ascertain levels of these compounds - the more bitter the flavour, the more compounds it contains[
Salicin has several valuable medicinal properties. In particular it is an effective antiinflammatory and pain reliever, and is also a valuable febrifuge[
Modern medicine has used salicin as a pathway to producing the common pain reliever aspirin and, until a totally synthetic pathway of producing the medicine was discovered, several Salix species were harvested on a commercial basis to obtain salicin.
Many Salix species have a history of traditional use (not always documented). All parts of the plant can be used, but the bark is more commonly employed. Their pain-relieving and antiinflammatory properties make them useful in the treatment of verious conditions including headaches, neuralgia and joint pains, whilst they can also be very helpful in the treatment of fevers[
The plant has an extensive root system and is fast growing in moist sites. It is a relatively good soil stabilizer and is valuable for revegetating streambanks and other disturbed sites. It readily invades mine spoil piles and has been observed invading barren acid soils, particularly after such soils were treated with lime and phospate[
A pioneer species, readily invading any cleared-out area if there is sufficient moisture[
]. It is short-lived and not very shade tolerant and so, having provided good conditions for other woodland trees to become established, it is eventually out-competed by them[
The cultivar 'Wilson' is a very dense, tall plant, making it ideal for windbreak and screening uses. If it is used in windbreak applications then it should be planted in multi-row, or multi-species arrangements[
The pliable stems are used in basket making[
]. The plant is usually coppiced annually when grown for basket making, though it is possible to coppice it every two years if thick poles are required as uprights.
The bark has been twisted into cord and made into strong rope, bags and dresses[
]. The bark has been used for sewing birch bark onto basket frames[
The wood is moderately hard, fine grained, light in weight, and brittle.The wood has been used to make baseball bats[
This is the most important of a group of willow species that often have diamond-shaped depressions on their bark caused by a fungus. This wood is considered to be very ornamental and is carved into higher value goods such as canes, lamp posts and furniture[
The wood is used for fuel ans to make charcoal[
Willow seed is very small and light, and has a very short viability, perhaps as little as a few days in some species. It must be surface sown as soon as it is ripe. In nature the seed only germinates in disturbed soils in an open situation. In nursery conditions, sow the seed in a tray in a moderately sunny position and keep the soil moist. Germination is usually quite rapid - prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on until large enough to plant out. Plants generally establish better if planted out whilst quite small.
Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth or older can root at almost any time of the year, though late autumn is considered best as this produces a better balance of root and stem growth the following spring[
]. Plant them in a sheltered outdoor nursery bed or straight into their permanent position and give them a good weed-suppressing mulch. Most willow species are very easy to root, though this species does not always root well without applying rooting hormone. Plant into their permanent positions in the following autumn.
Cuttings of half-ripe wood, early to mid summer in a frame. Most willow species are very easy to root, though this species does not always root well without applying rooting hormone.