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A low, spreading bush in its typical state, rarely more than 15 ft high; buds and twigs densely grey-downy; second year wood prominently striated under the bark. Leaves obovate to oblanceolate or elliptic, 2 to 4 in. long, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide, tapered at the base, shortly pointed or rounded at the apex, entire or inconspicuously toothed, dull green and glabrous above, covered beneath with a permanent soft grey felt; petiole up to 1⁄2 in. long. Stipules usually conspicuous, up to 3⁄8 in. long. Catkins and flowers essentially as in S. caprea, but the former somewhat smaller and appearing a few weeks later, usually not before April.
Native of Europe, W. Asia and N. Africa, uncommon in Britain, where it is mainly confined to wet habitats in eastern England (but see var. oleifolid). It is allied to S. caprea, and best distinguished from it by the striated wood, the narrower leaves and persistently hairy twigs.
subsp. oleifolia (Sm.) Macreight S. oleifolia Sm.; S. cinerea var. oleifolia (Sm.) Gaud.; S. atrocinerea Brot. Common Sallow. – Taller growing than the typical subspecies, sometimes a tree up to 40 ft high. Mature twigs and buds glabrous or almost so. Leaves smaller, to about 21⁄2 in. long, the coating beneath rather thin, rough to the touch, and composed of grey hairs intermingled with brown hairs. Native of W. Europe, common in the British Isles in a wide variety of habitats. The thin indumentum of the leaf-undersides, composed of a mixture of grey and brown hairs, rough to the touch, serves to distinguish it from typical S. cinerea and from S. caprea. Also, in S. caprea the wood is smooth under the bark and the leaves are broadest about the middle, whereas in the common sallow, S. cinerea var. oleifolia, the wood under the bark is ridged and the leaves are broadest above the middle.
The flowering twigs of the common sallow are gathered like those of the goat willow on Palm Sunday, especially in years when Easter falls late.