Autumn Willow is a medium to large, multi-stemmed shrub that is usually found in open swamps, fens, wet meadows, riverbanks, and bogs. Flowers appear as stout catkins in May and June, supporting numerous different types of pollinators. Unlike many other willows, it reproduces only by seed and does not form large stands. It is well suited for naturalized areas and sites near water. Autumn willow is a potentially threatened species in Ohio.
Most often grows 3-6’ tall, but in ideal conditions, can reach 10 feet; height can be controlled by pruning or cutting to the ground every 3-5 years in late winter to early spring.
Thrives in full sun, tolerant to light shade
Prefers moderate to wet soil.
Fruit forms capsules and is yellowish when mature. Capsules split into two halves in late summer/early fall, releasing cottony seed.
Lance-shaped leaves are shiny and leathery with long, tapering tips and finely toothed edges. Color is dark green above, lighter and duller underneath.
Twigs are erect and multi-stemmed, often forming a clump. Bark is shiny red-brown on young twigs, golden on older branches, and gray on the oldest wood. Stems can reach 1 ½” in diameter.
Serves as a host plant for 328 Lepidoptera species, including American dagger moth, locust underwing moth, and white furcula moth (pictured here in that order). Autumn willow attracts numerous species of native bees, including half-black bumble bee, two-form bumble bee, golden northern bumble bee, and the rare-species frigid bumble bee. Birds nest in the branches and feast on seeds, willow buds, larval moths, and butterflies. Hummingbirds, yellow warblers, and other bird species line their nests with the soft fluff of the seeds. The small leaves become fine-textured leaf litter, full of seeds and overwintering insects, which feed foraging birds in winter. Beaver and deer browse on twigs and leaves.
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
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