As I sit at my office computer I can look out the door to the large and majestic Pacific willow (Salix lasiandra var. lasiandra) in our backyard. It’s one of 38 species of willows found in Washington state and one of the easier ones to identify (willows in general are notoriously difficult to key out).
Our Pacific willow is one of the last trees on our property to lose its leaves in autumn. Today it’s still covered, although there are lots of fallen leaves on the ground, too.
As willows go, Pacific willow is a large tree. It often reaches 40 feet tall and when grown in the open it has a broad crown. Like most willows, it prefers plenty of moisture and rich soil. We have a fairly high water table so our willow is very happy.
The characteristic that makes Pacific willow one of the easier ones to identify is its brilliant yellow twigs, most noticeable in the winter months. On a sunny mid-winter day the willow twigs really glow.
Pacific willow leaves are long and linear (up to 10 times longer than wide), with many tiny teeth on the edges, sharply pointed at the end, glossy on the top surface and a whitish bloom on the underside. Like all willows, Pacific willow has male and female catkins (aka aments) on separate plants. The catkins appear about the same time as the leaves in early spring.
While we enjoy having a Pacific willow as part of our landscape, it isn’t without faults. Since the twigs and branches are somewhat brittle we get a lot of debris under the tree every time we have a period of high wind. It’s messy, but pretty easy to clean up. We pile the twigs up and I run them through our chipper-shredder and make mulch out of them.
Nearly all our willows are easy to establish from hardwood cuttings made in late fall and planted immediately so they’ll begin putting out roots during the winter months. Cut branches about as thick as your finger and a feet long and stick them in the ground where you’d like to get them established.