Narrowleaf Willow (Exigua)

The Narrowleaf Willow (Exigua) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until spring. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Narrowleaf Willow (Exigua) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Narrowleaf Willow (Exigua) will reach up to 10 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 10 feet.

The Narrowleaf Willow (Exigua) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: The value of willow as the raw material necessary for the manufacture of a family's household goods cannot be over-estimated. Among the Paiute, every woman carried bundles of long, slender willow which had been scraped white, and coils of willow sapwood that she had gathered and prepared during the winter months when the leaves were gone (Wheat 1967). Willow branches are used as the warp for twined baskets and the foundation in coiled baskets. Willows are used to weave water jugs, cradles for newborn infants, hats, cooking vessels, serving bowls, trays, seed beaters, and storage baskets. Some tribes use willow roots as a sewing strand. Virtually all California tribes use willow in their baskets.

Tribes which use willow, such as Salix exigua, include the Chemehuevi, Paiute, Mono, Panamint, Pviotso (Northern Paiute), Shoshoni, Bannock, Ute, Washo, Chiricahua, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, Navajo, San Carlos Apache, Western Apache, White Mountain Apache, Havasupai, Maricopa, Yavapai, Hopi, San Juan Pueblo (Tewa), Zuni, Papago, and Pima Indians extending through the American Southwest and Mexico. In Ancestral Puebloan times, willow, along with threeleaf sumac, was the material of choice for manufacturing Native American baskets.

Willow is gathered from the time the leaves fall in autumn until the buds begin to swell in spring. The year-old wands without branches are chosen, and sorted by size and length. The bark can easily be stripped off in the spring when the sap rises. Willow wands with the smallest leaf scars are split and peeled to obtain the tough, flexible sapwood used for the weft in basket weaving. Color variation is achieved by alternating peeled and unpeeled willow sticks in the warp. Ute Indians used to concoct a green dye for coloring buckskin by soaking willow leaves in hot water and then boiling the mixture to concentrate the pigment. Willow roots also have been used by others to manufacture a rose-tan dye.

The Paiute built willow-frame houses covered with mats of cattails or tules. Slender willow withes were woven into tight circular fences as protection from the wind that blew sand into eyes and food. For shade, shed roofs thatched with willows, called willow shadows, were constructed. In the Pueblo province, coyote willow branches are employed with leaves attached for thatching roofs. Other light construction uses included the tops of storage bins or racks for aerating corn while it dried, such as one recently unearthed at prehistoric Arroyo Hondo Pueblo.

A bed or sleeping bench of willow poles raised high off the ground indicated a wealthy man in the Miwok culture in California's Sierra Nevada. Willow brush was placed radically over the roof timbers of an earth lodge. Boats had eight willow ribs and a gunwale of willow pole along each side. Sweat lodges are made with willow. A women’s shinney game was played on a field similar to a football field with five-foot long, sharp willow poles. A ring of rope or string was thrown into an indent in the field and the women had to move it up the field and throw it against a goal post without touching or carrying it on the poles. Counting games are played with willow counting sticks.

Ancestral Puebloans used willow wood for textile loom anchors, rods to control the weaving rhythm, and finishing needles. Bows, arrow points, pot rests, scrapers and cradle parts all were crafted from willow. In later times, Navajo made weaving sticks and arrow shafts from willow along with other straight-grained woods, and Ute Indians made snowshoe frames from dried willow branches. Matting was another early product made from willows.

Other implements made from willow include fire sticks twirled as a spindle to generate enough heat to ignite a flame and what appear to be prayer sticks recovered from various archaeological sites. Willow is still used for making prayer sticks by the Zunis and doubtless by some of the Rio Grande pueblo.

General Characteristics

General: Willow Family (Salicaceae). Salix exigua, with its long, thin leaves, is the most distinctive of the willow species. The leaves have a very short petiole, and mature blades are 50 - 124 mm long, linear, with an acuminate leaf tip and either a serrate or entire leaf edge. Coyote willow is a shrub < 7 m tall, and spreads clonally by root-sprouting. The catkin inflorescence appears with or after the leaves in the spring, and are 22-70 mm long on leafy shoots 5-110 mm long. The flower bracts are a tawny yellow color.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. Salix exigua is distributed in wetlands, along alluvial bottomlands and streamsides at elevations lower than 2700 m. Coyote willow is distributed throughout California north to Alaska, east across North America, and south to Arizona and Mexico (Hickman (1993). Mason (1957) says Salix exigua is often found at sites of former Indian habitation, and notes this was one of the common basket willows of the Indians

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Coyote willow dominates the riparian forests of lower terrace deposits and stabilized gravel bars. Willows are found near water; they require a bare gravel or sand substrate with adequate moisture for germination and development. Willows grow very rapidly when their roots are in contact with the permanent water table.

Typically, in California, cottonwoods and willows predominate on the immediate stream banks, whereas valley oaks are spread irregularly over the natural levees farther away from stream banks. In other parts of the American west, temporal gradients occur within a location in the riparian zone. Early pioneer communities such as cottonwood/willow give way to late successional communities such as mesquite or sagebrush, often a consequence of sediment accumulation (Patten 1998). Many similarities among western riparian ecosystems exist because several dominant genera (e.g. Populus and Salix spp.) are common throughout the West, and many geomorphic and hydrologic processes that influence riparian establishment are similar.

Western riparian ecosystems have been greatly altered by human activity. Riparian forests have been reduced to fragmented, discontinuous patches because of human intervention. For example, estimates are that 70 - 90 percent of the natural riparian ecosystems in the U.S. have been lost to human activities (Warner 1979). Regional losses in these ecosystems have been estimated to exceed 98% in the Sacramento Valley in California (Smith 1977) and 95% in Arizona (Warner 1979). Many factors have contributed to these resource losses, including the following: natural resource use; urbanization; alteration of stream flows through dam construction and ground-water withdrawal; modification of biotic conditions through grazing, agriculture, and introduction of non-native species; and alteration within watersheds (Patten 1998).

Coyote willow roots freely from cuttings, and is an easy species to propagate. Coyote willow is a shrub 3 to 15 feet in height with multiple branches and deciduous leaves. Its architecture is resilient to disturbance such as high velocity floodwaters, sediment deposition, medium to high flooding (anoxic conditions), high winds, heavy precipitation, or pruning from beaver, deer or wildlife. Beaver browsed more than 5,000 willow cuttings to ground level in New Mexico, and all the willow resprouted (Los Lunas Plant Materials Center 1998). These cutting also survived over two months of continuous inundation.

The NRCS Plant Materials Center at Los Lunas in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a pole planting technique for establishing willow and cottonwood (USDA, NRCS). We reprint this procedure below. Trial planting on well adapted sites indicate more that 80% survival of cottonwood and willow poles when dormant poles are cut and planted between November and February. It is essential to monitor the water tables at proposed planting sites for at least one year before planting. Poles planted where the water table fluctuates widely will have lower survival rates than those planted where water table is relatively stable. If groundwater monitoring shows the water level will drop more than 3 feet during the growing season (May-October), another site should be selected. Monitoring of observation wells for at least one calendar year before planting will allow better planting depth to ensure establishment. Salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis), Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia), and giant reed (Arundo donax) will need to be controlled before poles are planted. However, young cottonwoods and willows can grow successfully in quite small openings in stands of salt cedar. Study of natural stands suggest they will eventually shade out the salt cedar.

Steps for Successful Pole Plantings: Select sites as close to the area as possible to conserve genetic diversity. Try to match donor site and revegetation site in terms of soils, elevation, hydr

General Upkeep and Control

Traditional Resource Management: Willow is nature’s healer. Poles of willow readily sprout and help to stabilize stream banks and provide habitat. Sweat lodges constructed of willow have been known to sprout and grow, even though the willows were subjected to very high heat.

Willows were traditionally tended by pruning, to produce long straight stems. Willow is gathered only at certain times of the year, beginning in the autumn after the leaves fall. For many weavers, gathering will continue until the following spring when the sap begins to rise again. Some gatherers, once they find a good stand, will cut as much as they can. The willows in many areas have not been tended in a long time, and the stems are old, woody, and twisted. Often basket weavers will prune many willows, sometimes replanting the stems, so there will be nice straight basketry materials the following year.

The Chemehuevi gather shoots, which they have burned several times, until only the living stumps of the willow, remain (Collings 1979). Straight young shoots grow from these stumps in profusion. Each twig is carefully selected. Those finally selected are at least fifteen inches long and between 1/8 and 3/16 of an inch in diameter with as little taper from end to end as possible.

Before gathering, the weavers I have interviewed make offerings of thanks and pray for permission to gather (Stevens, unpublished field notes, 1998). Often tobacco or other offerings are given before beginning to gather.

Basket weavers process materials with their hands and mouths. Herbicides sprayed on willows and along streams have a much higher health risk for humans when they are used for traditional materials. A Washoe basket weaver says, “Sometimes when you take the willows' skins off, they have spots from pesticides.” Another weaver says the plants then grow deformed; the shoots don't grow straight and the willows are bumpy and wormy inside (Fulkerson 1995).

Howe and Knopf (1991) conclude that to ensure the survival of willows and cottonwoods in riparian communities, resource managers need to implement strategies to control the spread of exotic species.

Livestock grazing has widely been identified as a leading factor causing or contributing to degradation of riparian habitats in the western United States (U.S. General Accounting Office 1988; Chaney et al. 1990, Fleischner 1994, Ohmart 1996). Livestock grazing can alter vegetative structure and composition of riparian habitat. Overgrazing, especially by livestock and big game, frequently changes plant species composition and growth form, density of stands, vigor, seed production of plants, and insect production. Livestock grazing can cause the replacement of bird and mammal species requiring the vertical vegetation structure of riparian habitat to species, which are ubiquitous in their habitat p

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Rhizomatous
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 10
Vegetative Spread Moderate
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Spring
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 120 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA