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What is a Black Willow Tree?

Photo collage of different types of black willow tree.

We really love trees around here. We’ve been going through a long list of 101 Types of Trees not only to educate the masses but because it is just super interesting stuff to learn about yourself! The black willow is no exception. Part of genus Salix, these trees are a long-time beloved tree.

Gazing upon them brings nothing but wonder and whimsy, and knowing their inner workings just makes them all the more special.

Salix Nigra

Part of the willow family, Salicaceae, the black willow is a medium-sized deciduous tree. It is fast-growing, but short-lived, and will reach heights of up to 40 meters in special cases, but only live to be about 80. The black willow is sometimes referred to as the Goodding willow, the southwestern black willow, or the Dudley willow.

Because of its growing location, there are some who call it a “swamp willow”, but it is important to know that the swamp willow is actual entire other species of the willow tree, salix myrtilloides. A man named Humphry Marshall, who was a botanist and said to be the “father of American dendrology” (dendrology is the science of trees) first founded this tree in 1785 and deemed it as being one of the most important trees in the southeastern United States.

What do Black Willow Trees Look Like?

Root System

Black willow trees develop very shallow, dense, and wide-spreading root systems. Willow trees only grow in very moisture-rich areas and have no need to have deep-reaching root systems to access moisture reserves. Black willow trees are often planted in areas that experience severe soil erosion, as their roots help keep soil in place.

Their shallow roots aid in environmental restoration and marshland stabilization in areas that experience a lot of flooding and erosion.


Depending on the growing locations of the tree, a black willow can grow to be anywhere from 10 to 30 meters tall. Their multiples trunks will range from having a diameter of 20-30 inches around. The largest known black willow tree lives in Marlboro, New Jersey.

It is 152 years old, with a height of 23 meters and a trunk diameter of 6 meters.

Growth Pattern

Black willow trees are most commonly multi-trunked trees, with several trunks growing from the same root at different angles. Willows have long slender shoots that hold their leaves and grow pendulously to the ground.


The bark of a young tree is dark brown and is very smoothly textured. The bark of an old tree will have developed deeply furrowed fissures that have scaly topper ridges, and that fork near the base of the trunk.


The leaves of a black willow tree are alternately arranged on a shoot. Shoots can be green, brown, yellow, or purple, and they are very brittle at the base and are easily snapped off. A leaf is long and thin, usually around 5 inches, and tapers off into a pointed tip.

A black willow leaf has a gently serrated margin and is sometimes called a leaf blade because of its narrow shape. Leaves are dark green and shiny on both the underside and the topside. The stipules (the stem that attaches the leaf to the leaf stalk) are short and become lemon yellow in the fall.

They emerge in early spring.

How do Black Willow Trees Reproduce?

This is a close look at a silhouette of a black willow tree against a dark sky.


Willow trees are dioecious, meaning that male flowers and female flowers occur on separate trees. This means that they must be either wind-pollinated or pollinated by honey bees or insects. Black willow flowers emerge in the month of February in more southern ranges, and in June in more northern ranges.

Their blooming is dependent on that year’s climate. A male flower or staminate flowers (male characteristics – pollen-producing) are borne at catkins. A male catkin is a cluster of flowers with indistinct or no petals.

Black willow catkins are yellowish-green and are formed as elongated clusters. Pistillate flowers (female characteristics – ovule producing) are tight clusters of yellow-green flowers.


Once a tree has been successfully pollinated, it will produce fruit in the form of a seed capsule. These seed capsules split open when they are fully mature and release a multitude of seeds covered in silver downy hair. Seedlings require very wet conditions in order to germinate.

They must be in basically a flooded and waterlogged area that is also warm to grow into a sapling.

Sexual Maturity

Black willow trees start producing seeds around the age of 10. They have successful and productive crops every year, and willow produce seeds for the vast majority of their lives.

What Are Some Other Types of Willow Trees?

White Willow (Salix Alba

A mature white willow tree by the river.

The white willow is native to Europe and Asia. The name comes from their leaves that are much paler than other willow species, and the underside is covered in silky white hairs. White willow is significantly stronger than most other willow woods.

Swamp Willow (Salix Myrtilloides

The swamp willow is native to Europe, Asia, Norway, and Poland. They occur in temperate subarctic regions and in mountain bogs. They are one of the smaller willows and grow as small shrubs that only get to be 24 inches tall.

They have dark green leaves that have a purple underside.

Chinese Willow (Salix Matsudana

This is a close look at the gnarled branches of a Chinese willow tree.

Otherwise known as the “corkscrew willow”, the Chinese willow is native to China. It is very different in appearance from other willow species, as they are a shorter, upright tree with very spiraled and contorted branches.

Sandbar Willow (Salix Exigua

This is a close look at the thick foliage of a sandbar willow tree.

The sandbar will is native to all areas of North America except for southeastern locations, and northern locations. It is also known as the narrow-leaf willow or the coyote willow and is currently classified as an endangered species. It is planted as an ornamental tree.

Beaked Willow (Salix Bebblana

The beaked willow is indigenous to Canadian provinces and northern American states. They are the largest of the willow species, are very fast-growing, and are found along riverbanks and swamps. They have fine wood that is popular for carving and basket weaving.

Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica

This is a view of a large mature weeping willow tree.

The weeping willow is native to Europe and Asia, and is the largest and most well-known of the willow species. They grow quickly and develop pendulous drooping branches that earned it the name weeping willow, as it resembles the shape of an umbrella.

Where do Black Willow Trees Grow?

Black willow trees are present all around North America. Their range begins from New Brunswick and spans towards Ontario, then the range extends towards Minnesota, and southward to Florida and Texas. The range extends further to northern Mexico and the Rio Grande.

They are most commonly found near bodies of water, as they are a very water-demanding species. These areas are usually streams, swamps, ponds, lakes, and bogs. It is considered as being the most important of New World willow species, and in Mississippi, they are grown commercially.

They are valuable to prevent soil erosion and flood damage and for binding soil banks.

What are the Growing Conditions of the Black Willow Tree?

This is a far-off view of a black willow tree by the river.


The most important condition for the soil of black willows is water. They need to be wet to the point of being waterlogged. Black willows perform well in waterlogged soils and do not require proper drainage.

The wet soil can range from being, sand, to clay, to loam.


Black willows need water more than anything else. Not only are they tolerant to flooding, but they also thrive in it. Their seeds can only germinate if they are in flooded soil.

Sun Exposure

Black willows can tolerate an array of sun exposure because they attain most of their energy from nutrients found in water and soil. They can tolerate full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

What Pests Affect Black Willow Trees?

Crown Gall

A crown gall derives from a bacteria that thrives in very moist soils (though they are not present in particularly acidic soil). The bacteria will then invade the roots of the tree, and cause an uncontrolled burst in plant cell growth, much like the way a tumor develops. These growths, or galls in other woods, will start near the roots and lower branches of the tree.

These galls will end up disrupting the flow of water and nutrients to the remaining members of the tree and completely stunt its growth.


Canker disease derives from a fungus called glomerella miyabeana. The fungus infects the host plant through the leaves which appear as black spots. Leaf spot will then infect the petiole, to the twig, to the branch, and then throughout the rest of the tree.

Stressed trees are more susceptible to cankers. These stresses can be caused by poor nutrients in the soil, lack of sun exposure, or poor climate conditions.


There are also several species of moths that use willow trees as their habitat, and larvae overfeed on their foliage. These moth species include the mourning cloak moth, viceroy moth, red-spotted purple moth, and the tiger swallowtail moth.

How are Black Willow Trees Used?

This is a close look at a snow-covered black willow tree.


Black willow wood is one of the softest hardwoods in North America. It is structurally weak, but when stripped, it has many uses. It maintains its shape because it is water-resistant, it splinters very easily, and it is relatively shock-resistant.

Black willow wood was the very first wood that was used to manufacture artificial limbs! During the American revolution, wood was chopped and made into fine charcoal, which was then used to make gunpowder. The wood is also sometimes used to manufacture furniture, doors, cabinets, barrels, and toys.

Stripped inner wood has been used for basket weaving by First Nations communities as well, because of the highly flexible quality of the wood.

Medicinal Purposes

Black willow roots are extremely bitter, and they have been used traditionally as a way to treat malaria before quinine medicine was produced. Black willow bark contains salicylic acid, which is a biochemical that is very similar to the chemical that is present in aspirin. It has anti-inflammatory properties and pain-relieving properties.


Black willow bark, twigs, buds, and leaves are all browsed upon by small mammals, birds, deer, rabbits, beavers, songbirds, and waterfowl.

Environmental Restoration

One of the most important uses of the black willow is its contribution to environmental restoration. Because of their very dense and shallow root system, these trees are very efficient at holding the earth in place. Black willows are often planted in marshlands to enable stabilization, and they are present anywhere where there is persistent flooding in need of erosion control.


Are black willow trees invasive?

Black willow roots are exceptionally dense and expansive. They are difficult to transplant, and some may consider them as being “invasive” when it comes to interfering with infrastructure.

However, the regions in which black willows grow, are native. An invasive species is a species that is foreign to an area, and the surrounding ecosystem has not been able to adapt or harmonize with the species.

How long do black willow trees live?

Black willow trees are rather short-lived trees and have a lifespan of 40-80 years.

How fast do black willow trees grow?

Black willow trees are very fast-growing and can grow 18 inches within a year.

How tall do black willow trees get?

Black willow trees will usually grow to be between 20 and 30 meters tall, though there have been exceptions where they reach 40 meters when they grow in ideal conditions.

How do you identify a black willow tree?

The easiest way to identify a black willow tree is by its shape. There are multiple trunks that extend from the same root in different directions. Additionally, these trees have the darkest bark of all the willow species.

Where did the name “black willow” come from?

Black willows got their name because of their distinctively dark bark, which can be so dark gray that it is almost black.

What is the black fungus on willow tree roots?

The fungus that impedes willow trees is glomerella miyabeana. This fungus causes leaf spotting that starts on the leaves, then spreads into the twigs and branches and then throughout the rest of the tree.

What year what the black willow tree discovered?

The black willow tree was discovered in 1785 by a man named Humphry Marshall who was a botanist.

Is black willow a hardwood?

Though it is hardwood, black willows are the softest hardwood in North America.

Why is my black willow turning black?

If a black willow tree has leaves, twigs, and branches that are turning black, chances are that it has been infected by the fungus glomerella miyabeana. This fungus causes leaf spotting that will then go on to invade the entire tree.

What is the scientific name for a black willow tree?

The scientific term for the black willow tree is salix nigra.

Is black willow good firewood?

Though black willow wood does burn, like all other wood, it does not make the ideal firewood. It is rather light and porous and does not hold heat very well. It is also very water-resistant, meaning that the wood is usually quite wet and may be difficult to ignite.

What does a willow tree look like in the winter?

Willow trees are deciduous, meaning that they will seasonally shed their leaves. Black willow leaves grow on very long slender stalks, and so in the winter what remains are these bare green stalks.

Can you keep a willow tree small?

Technically it is possible to keep any type of tree small, as long as it starts its life in a pot. The willow tree is no exception and can be kept as a bonsai as long as it is propagated in a pot before its roots have a chance to develop.

What is the difference between a black willow and a weeping willow tree?

The black willow and weeping willow come form to very different regions, are have different physical qualities as well. Black willow are from North America, have dark bark, and dark leaves. The weeping willow tree is native to China, has lighter bark, pendulous branches, and lighter leaves.

Will a willow tree grow back from a stump?

A willow tree will grow back from a stump through stump suckers, though it will probably develop as a bushy shrub from the stump.

How far should you plant a willow tree from your house?

It is best to keep willow trees as far away from houses as possible. Their root system is very shallow and wide-spreading, and has been known to cause some infrastructural issues.