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White willow

A mature white willow tree.

White willow, like other species of willow, is very tolerant of wet sites. It is a fast-growing tree with weak wood that is prone to storm damage. This species is best known for its weeping cultivars ('weeping willows').

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Salix alba

All common names:

white willow

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

75-100 feet

Mature Width:

50-100 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 2,
  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil


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

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Highly susceptible to ice damage,
  • Roots prone to invading sewer pipes,
  • Weak wood and branch structure

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fall color,
  • Showy flowers

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Arching,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Birds,
  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

A great upright willow for moist, wet areas. Trees have a shallow root system.
Full sun and pH adaptable.
Supplemental water in dry periods, plants benefit with a layer of mulch to moderate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Prune in summer to late fall.

Disease, pests, and problems

Susceptible to ice and windstorm damage.
Numerous insects and disease problems: cankers, powdery mildew, leaf spots, willow leaf beetle, and scale.

Native geographic location and habitat

Central and southern Europe, western Siberia and central Asia.

Bark color and texture 

Brown to yellow-brown, corky and furrowed.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, 1 to 4 inches long, slender, finely toothed, lancolate leaves. Bright green to dark green changing to yellow fall color.
Willows are one of first plants to leaf out in spring.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious; male and female flowers born in upright catkins. Male flowers are showy. Insect pollinated.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Seeds are a two-valved capsule.

Cultivars and their differences 

Golden Weeping Willow (Salix alba 'Tristis'): A large weeping tree reaching 75-80 feet high and wide. In spring the bright yellow twigs and graceful form are quite showy. One of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. Prone to storm damage.

Golden Willow (Salix alba 'Vitellina'):  This cultivar produces bright yellow stems.

Location of Salix alba (White willow) at the Arboretum