Black Willow

Illustration of black willow leaves and catkins.
Scientific Name
Salix nigra
Salicaceae (willows)

Black willow is a medium to large-sized tree with a straight trunk and a broadly irregular, open crown when growing on productive sites.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 3–6 inches long, narrowly lance-shaped, thin, papery, finely toothed, very long-pointed and often curved toward the top.

Bark is dark brown or blackish, rough, deeply furrowed, scaly, with forking ridges.

Sapwood is gray to light tan, sometimes nearly white. Heartwood is light gray to dark or reddish brown. Wood texture is fairly uniform to a little coarse, diffusely porous; growth rings are not conspicuous.

Twigs are slender, brittle, smooth, reddish brown.

Flowers April–May, with the leaves. Male and female flowers in hairy catkins on separate trees.

Fruits May–June, in catkins about 2 inches long; capsules narrowly conical, light brown, about ¼ inch long, splitting into 2 halves. Seeds numerous, tiny, with long silky hairs at the base; seeds are carried far and wide by wind and water.

Height: 70–100 feet.
Where To Find
image of Black Willow Distribution Map
Occurs along streams, swamps, sloughs, marshes, and ponds in wet bottomland soils, but can be found throughout the state around almost any water source. A rapidly growing but short-lived tree (less than 85 years), it is one of the largest willow species in the world (it can reach 120 feet in the southern United States). Very tolerant of flooding for long periods, it also withstands being buried by sediments that accompany floods.
In some parts of our nation, black willow is only a shrub, but, as Donald Culross Peattie notes, "beside the Father of Waters and its mighty tributaries," this willow is "a sprawling giant of a tree." The largest and most widely known of our native willows, black willow is the only member of its family that reaches commercial size.
Used for wicker-work furniture and basket. Does not split when nailed. Before plastics, toys were made from willow. Artificial limbs, packing cases, and some furniture parts. Warm brown tones and attractive grain make it beautiful paneling wood.
The roots form dense networks to hold the tree in the shifting soils along waterways, so this tree does much to stabilize stream banks. Black willows are among the first trees to become established on sandbars, allowing other plants to colonize, too. Many animals eat the leaves and twigs.
Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Pacific Palisades Conservation Area is a 695-acre tract in Jefferson and St. Louis Counties immediately east of Pacific and three miles from Interstate 44.
Sni-A-Bar Conservation Area contains a bottomland forest, including a 42-acre tree plantation, with a permanent stream (Sni-A-Bar Creek).
Liberty Bend Conservation Area was once the main channel of the Missouri River before the river was straightened. It consists of bottomland forests and old fields.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.