Meadow Willow

Illustration of meadow willow leaves, flowers, fruits.
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Salix petiolaris
Salicaceae (willows)

Meadow willow is a low-growing, clumped shrub with slender, upraised stems.

Leaves are simple, alternate, 1¼–3 inches long, ½–¾ inch wide, lance-shaped, with the tip pointed. Edges finely toothed with gland-tipped teeth, but teeth do not occur at the base of leaf.

Bark is gray-green or red-brown, becoming dark brown and either smooth or flaky.

Twigs are red-brown or yellow-brown, nearly smooth or with whitish hairs; pores small, barely noticeable, yellow-orange.

Flowers April–June, male and female flowers in separate catkins in axils of leaves.

Fruits June–July, erect catkins, ¾–1 inch long, with conical capsules having silky hairs; seeds cylindrical with long, silky hairs at base.

Height: to 10 feet; spread: 10 feet.
Where To Find
In Missouri, it occurs naturally only in the northeastern part of the state, along the Mississippi River from the Iowa state line to St. Louis.
Occurs in low, wet ground in mud or sandy gravel along streams and in wet meadows. In nature, it is associated with other willow species and cottonwood. If you are thinking of planting this tree, keep in mind that ideal sites have wet soil and full sun.
A Species of Conservation Concern, this shrub is critically imperiled in Missouri. The reason it is so rare here is that we are at the southern end of its native range. It is found across southern Canada, through the Great Lakes states, and into New England; this willow is only found naturally in the northeastern part of Missouri.
Humble streamside shrubs like willows serve to stabilize stream banks, which helps protect neighboring lands (including agricultural lands) from flooding. Likewise, it prevents our valuable farmland from washing away into the stream after heavy rains.
The twigs and leaves are browsed by deer. The shoots and buds are eaten by many rodents, including muskrat and beaver, as well as by rabbits. Some ducks and water birds eat the catkins and leaves. Bees make a high-grade honey from the nectar. The dense thickets provide valuable wildlife cover.
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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.