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A low, sturdy bush, 2 to 4 ft high; branchlets stout, furnished when young with thick, soft, grey wool. Leaves silvery on both sides, with a rich coat of silky hairs, especially at first, oval to roundish or obovate, mostly abruptly pointed at the apex and tapered at the base, but sometimes rounded or heart-shaped, 1 to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide, nearly always entire; stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long; stipules up to 1⁄3 in. long, ovate, entire, prominently veined. Catkins produced in May, often solitary at the end of the previous season’s growth, of a bright golden colour; males 1 to 2 in. long, 1⁄2 in. thick; females up to 3 in. long at the seeding stage. Ovaries glabrous, long-styled, almost sessile.
Native of high latitudes in Europe and Asia, extending south to Scotland, where it is found only in a few localities in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and Angus, above 1,500 ft and ascending to 3,000 ft. It is one of the handsomest of dwarf willows, especially in spring, when the silver young foliage and golden catkins are in admirable contrast. It bears some resemblance to S. lapponum, but in that species the leaves are narrower, stipules are wanting or very small, the catkins are silvery and the ovary is hairy.
S. × balfourii E. F. Linton S. lanata × S. caprea – This hybrid was described by Linton in 1913 from a foliage-specimen collected in 1837 by J. H. Balfour, Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University, in Glen Isla, Angus. But the male clone by which S. × balfourii is represented in cultivation almost certainly descends from the plant raised by the Rev. E. F. Linton himself by artificial cross-pollination in his garden at Edmondsham, near Bournemouth, and distributed as No. 88 in the Linton ‘Set of British Willows’. This makes a shrub up to 10 ft high, perhaps taller. Leaves 1 to 3 in. long, broad-elliptic, roundish and often abruptly acuminate at the apex, grey with matted hairs beneath. Stipules conspicuous, at least on strong shoots, round or kidney-shaped. Catkins dense and very silky up to 2 in. long and 3⁄4 to 1 in. wide, appearing in April just as the leaf-buds are breaking; stamens up to 1⁄2 in. long, with small anthers. The Linton clone is one of the finest of the willows grown for their early catkins, certainly a better garden plant than any male goat willow, and later flowering than S. aegyptiaca.
The hybrid between S. caprea and S. lanata also occurs in Norway and Sweden.
S. ‘Stuartii’. – A probable hybrid between S. lanata and S. lapponum, nearer to the former but showing the influence of S. lapponum in the presence of hairs on the ovaries and their pedicels, the less copious, silvery hairs of the catkins, and the less prominent secondary veins on the undersides of the leaves (S. lanata × S. lapponum J. Fraser, Gard. Chron., Vol. 85 (1929), p. 208; S. × stuartii Druce).
‘Stuartii’ came from the garden of Dr Charles Stuart of Chirnside, Berwickshire (d. 1902). He was a plant breeder as well as a field naturalist, so it is impossible to say whether the hybrid was raised by him or, like his discovery Erica × stuartii, collected in the wild. Some years after his death stock was acquired by the Craven Nursery Company, which had been set up by Reginald Farrer and his associates. They never propagated it commercially, but when the nursery was wound up after Farrer’s death (1921), the stock was acquired by H. E. Mason of Alderley, who sent cuttings to some nurseries and private gardens (Gard. Chron., Vol. 85 (1929), p. 159).
‘Stuartii’ is usually listed as a variety of S. lanata and could be regarded as a fine form of that species. So far as is known all the plants in general cultivation are female, though the suspicion has been voiced that more than one clone was distributed. The first private gardener to grow ‘Stuartii’ was A. T. Johnson, who was given cuttings by one of Farrer’s associates in 1914. His plant was 3 ft high and 8 ft across in 1937 (The Woodland Garden, p. 117).
S. lanata × S. repens – This hybrid was raised and distributed by the Rev. E. F. Linton. A low bush to 2 or 3 ft high; branchlets and buds dark-coloured, somewhat woolly. Leaves to about 2 in. long, obovate or broadly elliptic-oblong, thinly silky beneath. Catkins (female) about 1 in. long, lengthening in fruit, borne in May, with a few silky leaves at the base; ovaries narrow, thinly hairy, with long styles. This was Linton No. 99. In No. 100, also female, the leaves were narrower, more glabrous, and the ovaries were glabrous.