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Black Willow


Salix nigra   SAY-lix NI-gra

Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Deciduous tree

HEIGHT:   40 to 80 feet
SPREAD:   20 to 30 feet
FINAL SPACING: 20 to 30 feet

NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE:   Grows all over Texas – anywhere there is any moisture in the soil, adapts to a wide range of soils from sand to heavy clays.

IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION:  Black willow is an upright willow, open-trunked, a regular crown, typical willow leaves, yellow fall color.

FLOWERS AND FRUIT: Flowers are yellow catkins about 1 inch long in the early spring. Male and female flowers appear on separate plants. Fruits are light brown capsules ¼ inch or less in the late spring and early summer containing many tiny seed covered with silky flowers.

BARK:     Reddish brown to black, moderately heavily fissured, flat ridges and thick scales becoming shaggy with age. Rich in tannin

FOLIAGE:  Leaves are simple, alternate, deciduous, yellow in the fall. Fruit forms May through June, flowers form April through May, neither are showy.

CULTURE:  Black willow is easy to grow in most soils as long as there is ample moisture. It does respond to fertilization. It is a short lived tree – rarely living over 20 years. Willows can grow as much as 4 feet in one year.

PROBLEMS: Primary shortcoming is short life even when healthy.  Borers attack plants in stress, other insects feed on the foliage of ill trees. Willows are weak trees subject to wind damage and have shallow destructive root systems.

PROPAGATION:  Collect the seeds as soon as the capsules dry and turn from green to yellow brown. Small black seeds start to lose their viability immediately and should be planted quickly after collection. No pretreatment is required. Germination in 12 to 24 hours after sowing. This is also one of the easiest of all plants to root from stem cuttings. Hardwood cuttings taken late winter to early spring will root almost 100 percent.

INSIGHT:  Black willow is the largest and most wide spread of the Texas willows. Black willow is considered a fast growing junk tree but has its place in wet soil areas. I wouldn’t plant many of them but they are useful if growing naturally on the site. Other willows include weeping willow, Salix babylonica, a graceful, fast-growing tree that is almost evergreen in the southern half of the state. It is easy to grow but very short lived. Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ is the corkscrew willow which has upright growth with interesting twisted limbs and branches. It again is relatively short lived but a very interesting landscape tree. Willows are functional to use as erosion control. Black willow wood is soft, light and weak but used to make boxes, artificial limbs, fuel wood and at one time was used to make a high grade charcoal for gun powder. Narrow branches are flexible and used in weaving baskets and making wicker furniture. Willow branches have also been used as divining rods. Willow water which supposedly works as a rooting hormone liquid, is made by soaking pencil length pieces of willow in water for 24 hours.

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