Goat willow

Flower buds of goat willow beginning to open in very early spring.

Goat willow is a small, compact tree or large shrub with attractive long male catkins appearing before the leaves in early spring.

Botanical name:

Salix caprea

All Common Names:

Goat willow, pussy willow

Family (English):

Willow

Family (Botanic):

Salicaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen,
  • Utility

Size Range:

  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Open,
  • Oval,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size & form

A small erect tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 25 feet high and 12 to 15 feet wide
Often confused with true pussy willow (Salix discolor).

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun in moist, well-drained soil. Tolerant of wet soil once established.
Prune in late winter to early spring.
Cut back to ground every 3 to 5 years to maintain size
Can be pruned into a hedge
Shallow-rooted can develop surface roots with age

Disease, pests, and problems

Mildew, blights, leaf spots, cankers, borer, aphids
weak-wooded, leaf and stems can be messy

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Deer, wet soils, black walnut toxicity

Native geographic location and habitat

Europe and Asia

Bark color and texture 

Slender upright stems yellow-brown to dark brown

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, broadly elliptical, 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide
Entire or slightly toothed margins, dark green above, gray pubescent beneath

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious (separate male and female plants),
Male flowers are gray, oval shaped and turn a showy, silky soft, yellow when open.
Female flowers slightly longer and turn green. Not as showy as the male flowers
Willows are wind pollinated

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Two-valved capsule

Cultivars and their differences 

Weeping Goat Willow (Salix caprea 'Pendula'):A weeping form, 6 to 10 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide, showy whitish-silver catkins in spring

Location of Salix caprea (Goat willow) at the Arboretum