Pacific Willow

Yesterday’s post on the willow flycatcher prompted me to think about willows. . .

The Pacific willow (Salix lucida sp. lasiandra) is the largest of our native willows. This deciduous willow, also commonly called a yellow willow, is found along lake edges and other wet locations throughout western North America. Pacific willow grows as a shrub or small tree.

Pacific willow was recently classified as S. lucida sp. lasiandra. Previously it was called S. lasiandra and S. lucida. All three scientific names are found in the recent literature. Sometimes it is difficult to remain abreast of all the taxonomic changes.

The bark of Pacific willow is gray-brown with shallow fissures cross-checked into scaly plates. The twigs are dark purple or deep red and glaucous (having a white bloom or cast) at first, later becoming reddish-brown or yellowish and shiny. The long, narrow lance-shaped leaves are dark green and shiny above and pale or glaucous below with prominent, kidney-shaped stipules (appendage at the base of a leaf stalk). The catkins (flowers) are either male or female. A fine down, willow down, floats through the air from the mature female catkins.

Pacific willow wood is soft and brittle. Previously the Spanish Californians used Pacific willow to make saddle trees. The wood was also used to make charcoal. However, currently Pacific willow wood is not of much use.

Indigenous people used the long, flexible branches of Pacific willow in basket weaving. The inner bark of the tree could also be twisted to make string.

The inner bark of willows contain salicin which in the body decomposes into salicylic acid, closely related to aspirin. Fresh willow bark was traditionally used by Native Americans and herbalists to relieve pain and inflammation.  The inner bark was also applied externally to cuts in order to staunch the flow of blood. Thankfully I have never needed to try willow bark for bleeding.

Bees love Pacific willow catkins!

These Pacific willows were on the shore of Reflection Pond in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania there was a huge willow (not a Pacific willow) in our yard. I spent many a hot summer day reading while tucked into a perfectly shaped crook in that willow tree. Ever since, all willows have held a special place in my heart.

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