North Coast CNPS

Carol's Basic Willow Lesson for coastal Humboldt County

 How do you know it's a willow?
            You are in a wet place.
            It is deciduous.
            This time of year it has "pussies," the catkins of flowers.
            Its buds have a certain look--no seams; like slippers (some exceptions, but not right here).
            Leaves are simple (not lobed or divided) and alternate.

Looking at the catkins.
            Some trees have male flowers.  These have stamens sticking out all over, with anthers full of pollen on the ends. Looking closely you can see how many stamens stick out from each flower, which is represented by a single bract (scale-like thing).
            Some trees have female flowers. The female flower has a single, bowling pin-shaped pistil sticking out from behind each bract of the catkin.  Willows are dioecious--sexes on separate plants.
            Willows produce lots of pollen and can be wind pollinated, but they also provide nectar and attract insects that can pollinate them. 

 The species of willow at Arcata Marsh.
These are the three common species you will see anywhere on the coast in Humboldt County.

  1. If it is a real tree, with a single trunk reaching for the sky, it isPacific Willow (Salix lasiandra).  This willow is conspicuous because its bright green leaves are coming out at the same time as the catkins.  The male catkins can be quite yellow with pollen. Each flower has 3-5 stamens.  The leaves are distinctive for being tapered to a pointy tip and for having glands at the base of the leaf blade.  Glands look like tiny warts right on the edge of the leaf.  I said tiny.
  2.  If it is a large but sprawling tree with wide leaves and robust catkins (......), it is Coastal Willow (Salix hookeriana).  This willow's catkins bloom before the leaves open.  It is the most common willow at the Arcata Marsh and all over Arcata Bottom.  In a population some individuals bloom long before others; they are very unsynchronized.  The male flower has 2 stamens. 
  3.  If it is more shrubby than a tree and has velvety leaf undersides, it is Sitka Willow (Salix sitchensis).  Truly velvety, not just slightly fuzzy (which other willows are); you will know it when you see it.  The top of the leaf looks slightly quilted.  The catkin is also quite hairy, narrower than Coastal Willow's. The male flower has only one stamen. 

A fourth species at Arcata Marsh, along the railroad tracks is a tree-form willow with yellow, flexible twigs.  This is White Willow  (Salix alba), a European species escaped from cultivation for use in basketry.  It is not common; you are unlikely to encounter it elsewhere. 

 When you are ready to broaden your willow repertoire, look up Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis) and Scouler's Willow (Salix scouleri).  Arroyo Willow is closely related to Coastal Willow and hybridizes with it.  It is more common inland than on the coast.  It is a large shrub, with its main distinction being that its leaves are widest beyond the middle, while variable in all other characteristics.  Scouler's Willow occasionally grows near the bay, but it is an upland willow, more likely to occur inland among conifers.  It is a tree-form willow, often with rusty hairs on the underside of the leaf. 

Go for a Willow Walk
At Arcata Marsh you can find these willows around the Log Pond.  You don't have to go to Arcata Marsh to find willows.  They are everywhere there is fresh water.  We are fortunate to have lots of that.  All the sloughs, gulches,shorelines, and streams are habitat for willows.  Now you know that it is possible for mere mortals to identify many of them to species.  Try it!

 27 March 2020