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This multi-stemmed perennial shrub or small tree is a 10-foot-tall, wildlife powerhouse that enjoys wet feet and full sun. It adapts to a variety of moist or wet soils, including heavy clay, and tolerates light shade. It’s associated with disturbed or successional habitats and is often found along banks of streams and in wet meadows or openings of woods. Meadow willow is found as far north as the Northwest Territories, and Ohio is at the southern edge of its range. It is listed as rare in our state due to changes in water supply, overshading by taller woody species, and overcrowding by non-natives. A resurgence is possible due to its ability to colonize disturbed habitats. It’s distinguished from others in its genus by long, slender petioles (another common name is slender willow).


Native willows are considered a keystone species (a species that helps define and support an entire ecosystem), in part because their catkins attract numerous species of native bees, butterflies, skippers, and beetles. Two or more plants are needed to produce viable seeds.


Native habitats include moist, rich soils along streams and shores; wet meadows and prairies; and along roadsides and railroad rights-of-way. Excellent for erosion control and moist areas of the landscape.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 5-10’ tall and wide.


Prefers full sun and tolerates light shade.


Grows in a variety of moist soils, including sandy, loamy, and clay.


Greenish-white flowers adorn the tips of the branches in late April to early May; female flowers are ½-1” long and loosely arranged on the spike. Male catkins are ½-1” long with densely packed flowers sporting 2 yellow-tipped stamens. Flowers give way to pear-shaped, yellowish capsules that split in two to release a cottony seed mid-summer.


Alternate, lance-shaped, dark green leaves are 1 ½-4” long with finely toothed edges and gray-green undersides. New leaves are sparsely covered in white hairs.


Numerous stems are erect with smooth, greenish-gray bark. Young branches may be reddish to purplish brown.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant for 328 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including red-spotted admiral and mourning cloak butterflies, twilight and great leopard moths and specialist moth connected dagger. Meadow willow is a nectar and pollen source for yellow-banded and half-black bees.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The bark, twigs, leaves, leaf buds, and flower buds of willow plants contain phenolic glycosides, particularly salicin, which is an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever that helped to produce the common aspirin. An infusion of the bark is used to stimulate appetite and treat colds and blisters. A poultice is used to treat bruises and skin eruptions.


Willow, Meadow, Salix petiolaris

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