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Willow Trees in Alaska

willow branch image by Florin Capilnean from

Willows are hardy trees that grow easily and quickly, especially in moist soils such as streamsides. There are more than 100 species of willows (Salix), which are native to North America. About 40 of these species are tree-size versus shrub-size. Willows are an important source of food and shelter for wildlife such as moose or ptarmigan for example. These five species of willow commonly grow in Alaska.

Pacific Willow

This native species, also known as the Roland Willow (Salix lasiandra), looks similar to a Black Willow and grows 15 to 40 feet tall and approximately 1 foot in diameter. The lanceolate leaves are gray-green on the underside with glands on the blades’ base. It can be useful for landscaping as it has attractive foliage and an irregular crown of ascending, spreading branches, as well as stream protection and bank restoration, windbreaks and reclamation. The name “Roland” was chosen to honor the “Father of Agriculture” in Alaska, Roland Snodgrass. It grows in the south-central and interior areas of Alaska.

Barclay Willow

Also known as the Long Willow (Salix barclayi), the barclay willow grows into good form quickly, which makes it a potentially good candidate for windbreaks and shelterbelts, as well as for landscaping and reclamation. It was given the name “Long” to honor Weymeth Long, the former state conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service, U.S.D.A. in Alaska. It grows, essentially, in the bottom half of Alaska; everywhere except the arctic and northwestern areas of the state.

Bebb Willow

Also known as the Wilson Willow (Salix bebbiana), theh bebb willow is a native species that grows in densely stemmed forms of about 25 feet tall. The leaves can be elliptical, oblong or lanceolate and 1 to 3 inches long but only a 1/2 inch wide. Early in the season they are pale green, but become dull and hairy. The branches create an attractive rounded crown of reddish-brown branches and greenish-gray bark with hints of red. They grow all over Alaska, but their growth in the Southeast area is questionable.

Feltleaf Willow

Also known as the Rhode Willow (Salix alaxensis), the feltleaf willow has a very wide range of growth, extending to all parts of the state and is great for wildlife as well as erosion control. The leaves are narrow, elliptical and 2 to 4 inches long and about 1 inch wide. They are a dull yellow-green above and white and hairy below. This tree grows to be about 30 feet tall but just 6 inches in diameter, with a crown of stout, hairy branches.

Oliver Willow

Also known as the Barren ground Willow (Salix brachycarpa), this tree is also great for wildlife, as it grows with a very high stem density. It is excellent for erosion control, windbreaks and shelterbelts, reclamation and landscaping, as well as hedges. The name was selected to honor William “Bart” Oliver, who was the Soil Conservation Service’s State Conservationist in Alaska from 1960 to 1965. It grows in South-Central Alaska, and in the interior.

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