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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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

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

Seasons 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.

Location of Salix nigra (Black willow) at the Arboretum