Willows

Salix spp. (over a dozen species in Missouri)
Family: 
Salicaceae (willows)
Description: 

Willows are deciduous shrubs and trees in the genus Salix.

Leaves are usually narrow and long (lance-shaped or linear), with a rounded base and pointed tip, often with teeth along the margin.

Wood is often brittle, weak and prone to breakage in ice and strong winds (many willows are fast-growing, water-loving species).

Twigs are famously slender, tough and flexible, hence the phrase "bend like a willow." Many willows can be grown from cuttings, by simply sticking a willow branch into the soil.

Male and female flowers develop in separate catkins on separate plants (each willow tree bears either male catkins, or female catkins, but not both). (Catkins are spikelike, often cylindrical, sometimes pendulous, rather tightly packed clusters of unisexual flowers.) Willow catkins are often hairy.

Fruits are capsules (often conical and brown or reddish) that develop in the female catkins; each capsule is filled with tiny seeds, often with hairs at the base.

Size: 
Varies with species. Many willows are shrubs; some grow into medium or large trees.
Habitat and conservation: 
Willows occur in North America and Eurasia. There are many species, varieties and hybrids. Willows are cultivated worldwide. Most Missouri willows are associated with wet or low-lying areas: floodplains, fens, streamsides, riverbanks, gravel bars, swamps, ditches and so on. Some, however, like the prairie willow, prefer drier, upland areas, hill prairies or open woods. Pussy willow and the (introduced) weeping willow are usually seen only in cultivation.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Willows can be found statewide. The different species have different habitats and distributions.
Human connections: 
The basic ingredient of aspirin, salicin, originally came from willow bark. Some willows have usable lumber. Willows prevent erosion. Many willows have ornamental value, but their fast growth causes weak, brittle wood; some willows are prone to diseases, too, so do some research before planting.
Ecosystem connections: 
Willows play a huge role in bank stabilization and erosion prevention. Their thickets of shrubby growth provide cover and nesting habitat for innumerable species. Animals ranging from tiny insects to large deer eat the plants. Their roots, exposed in the water, provide shelter for aquatic animals.
Shortened URL
http://mdc.mo.gov/node/7201