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Salix nigra

Common Name(s):
Black willow
Native Plants, Trees

Salix nigra, commonly called black willow, is a medium to large, fast-growing, deciduous willow tree that typically grows to 30-60’ tall on single or multiple trunks topped by a spreading, rounded but sometimes irregular crown. It may soar to as much as 140’ tall in optimum growing conditions. It is native to moist to wet soils of floodplains, stream/river banks, swamps, marshes, sloughs, and ponds in the U. S. from Maine to Minnesota south to Colorado, Texas, and Florida and in Canada from New Brunswick to Manitoba.

The bark of black willow is dark brown to black, developing deep grooves and a rough texture with shaggy scales as it ages. 

Black willow is generally not recommended for use as a specimen in residential landscapes because of its susceptibility to breakage, potential insect/disease problems, need for soils that never dry out, litter problems, shallow spreading root system which may seek out water/sewer pipes, and mature size potential. In the right location, its shallow roots can act as a quality soil binder, providing excellent erosion control.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

  Blooms:  Early spring            Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Summer

Wildlife Value: This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.  It is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Eastern Comma, Red-spotted purple, and Viceroy butterflies.  Its buds and catkins are eaten by birds.  It provides excellent leaf season cover for birds in wetland sites.

Members of the Salix genus support the following specialized bees: Andrena (Parandrena) andrenoidesAndrena (Thysandrena) bisalicisAndrena (Tylandrena) erythrogasterAndrena (Andrena) frigidaAndrena (Micrandrena) illinoiensisAndrena (Andrena) macoupinensisAndrena (Trachandrena) mariaeAndrena (Parandrena) nidaAndrena (Micrandrena) nigraeAndrena (Micrandrena) salictariaAndrena (Parandrena) wellesleyana.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Insects that may be a problem include tent caterpillars, willow sawfly, leaf beetles, aphids, and stem/twig borers.  Disease problems include blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots, crown gall, and cankers. Litter from leaves, twigs, and branches cause a lot of maintenance. Shallow roots can clog sewers or drains if trees are sited in improper locations. Wood is soft and weak and tends to crack in wind, ice, or snow. Do not allow soils to dry out.

30-60 ft.
Black willow is dioecious (male and female flowers appear on separate trees). Non-showy tiny yellowish-green flowers appear in catkins (both male and female catkins to 2” long) in early spring (late March-April) as the leaves emerge. Its fruits are reddish-brown capsules. The wood is soft and weak.
The black willow grows in consistently moist to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It is tolerant of flooding and silting. It has a shallow, spreading root system which is good for stabilizing soils and makes the tree an effective selection for erosion control. Soils should not be allowed to dry out. It prefers full sun. Avoid full shade. Prune as needed in late winter to early spring.
Sun, Part shade, shade
30-60 ft.
Growth Rate:
The Black willow has narrow, lanceolate, finely toothed, medium to dark green leaves (to 6” long) that taper to elongate tips. Variable fall color is usually an undistinguished greenish-yellow.
flooding, erosion, host plant, wet soil, bees, birds, pollinator, specialized bees, wildlife, wet site, butterflies, wet

NCCES plant id: 3184

Salix nigra Form
Bruce Marlin, CC-BY-SA-2.0 DE
Salix nigra Male catkins
S.B._Johnny, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Salix nigra Leaves
Suzanne Cadwell, CC BY-NC-2.0
Salix nigra Multi-trunked
Suzanne Cadwell, CC BY-NC-2.0
Salix nigra Leaf buds
Suzanne Cadwell, CC BY-NC-2.0