TREES & plants

Black willow

Foliage of black willow.

Black willow is a native tree that can tolerate very wet sites. It is fast growing, but may live for only 40 or 50 years. Wood is brittle and the tree may require regular pruning.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Salix nigra
All Common Names: 
black willow
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet), 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
30-60 feet
Mature Width: 
30-60 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil, 
  • Wet soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Excessive sucker growth, 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage, 
  • Roots prone to invading sewer pipes, 
  • Weak wood and branch structure
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Oval
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Browsers, 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Nesting birds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Willows are prone to storm damage and generally require regular pruning.

Disease, pests, and problems

Canker diseases are common on this tree.
The aggressive roots can get into drainage systems and sewers, causing problems.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 4
Common in wet areas.

Bark color and texture 

Gray-brown bark is furrowed into shaggy plates at maturity.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves are up to 6 inches long; finely toothed along the edges.
Leaves are medium green, changing to yellow-green in autumn.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male and female flowers on separate trees (dioecious).  Not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit occurs on female trees only.  Hanging clusters of dry capsules open to release numerous seeds attached to cottony fluff.

Salix nigra or Black willow