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Black Willow Salix nigra

Phonetic Spelling
SAY-liks NY-grah
Description

Salix nigra, commonly called black willow, is a medium-to-large, fast-growing, deciduous willow tree.  It typically grows to 70-80’ tall on single or multiple curved trunks, typically 1-2' thick, 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.  It is the largest of NC's willow species and grows nearly everywhere in the state, save for the high peaks of the Mountain region.

The black willow grows in consistently moist to wet soils in full sun to part shade.  It is tolerant of many soil types so long as ample moisture is present.  It is tolerant of flooding and silting. It has a shallow, spreading root system that 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.

The bark of black willow is dark brown to black, developing deep grooves and a rough texture with shaggy scales as it ages.  The wood is soft and weak, but is used for building crates, the cores of furniture, wooden utensils, and formerly used for building prosthetics.

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.

While it bares similarity to the also native Coastal Plains Willow, the two species can be told apart by the leaves– S. nigra has thinner leaves and lacks S. caroliniana's whitish undersides.

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.

Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#weeping#bees#butterflies#birds#wildlife plant#native tree#nectar plant#riparian#host plant#wetlands#high maintenance#erosion control#host#wet sites#flooding#specialized bees#moist soil#food source#fast growing#low flammability#NC native#dioecious#fire resistant#pollinator plant#food source summer
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#weeping#bees#butterflies#birds#wildlife plant#native tree#nectar plant#riparian#host plant#wetlands#high maintenance#erosion control#host#wet sites#flooding#specialized bees#moist soil#food source#fast growing#low flammability#NC native#dioecious#fire resistant#pollinator plant#food source summer
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Salix
    Species:
    nigra
    Family:
    Salicaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    North America
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    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. Salix genus support the following specialized bees: Andrena (Parandrena) andrenoides, Andrena (Thysandrena) bisalicis, Andrena (Tylandrena) erythrogaster, Andrena (Andrena) frigida, Andrena (Micrandrena) illinoiensis, Andrena (Andrena) macoupinensis, Andrena (Trachandrena) mariae, Andrena (Parandrena) nida, Andrena (Micrandrena) nigrae, Andrena (Micrandrena) salictaria, Andrena (Parandrena) wellesleyana.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire and moderately resistant to damage from deer.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 70 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 30 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Multi-trunked
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Weeping
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    High
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Red/Burgundy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Its fruits are reddish-brown capsules that hold hundreds small seeds. The seeds have downy filaments that allow them to be picked up and carried on the wind.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    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.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The Black willow has narrow (1/2 to 3/4" wide), lanceolate, finely toothed, medium to dark green leaves (3 to 6” long) that taper to elongate tips. Variable fall color is usually an undistinguished greenish-yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Black
    Dark Brown
    Light Brown
    Orange
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Shaggy
    Bark Description:
    The bark of black willow ranges from light brown with a touch of orange to dark brown and black. It develops deep grooves and a rough texture with shaggy scales as it ages.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Bud Scales:
    Enclosed in a single cap like scale
    Stem Description:
    The line between new and old growth is brittle, allowing twigs to be easily broken off.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Pond
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Native Garden
    Rain Garden
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Fire
    Wet Soil
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems
    Messy