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A bushy shrub, 3⁄4 to 10 ft high; young shoots glabrous or slightly downy, shining, yellowish or brown. Leaves orbicular, oval, ovate, or obovate; slightly toothed or almost entire, 3⁄4 to 3 in. long, 1⁄2 to 2 in. wide, shining green above, and either green or glaucous beneath, sometimes downy, sometimes glabrous; stalk 1⁄6 to 1⁄2 in. long. Catkins and flowers not much differing from those of S. nigricans, except that the ovaries are mostly silky or downy.
Native of N. Europe, including Britain (where its distribution is similar to that of S. nigricans), and of W. Siberia. Its affinity with S. nigricans has been mentioned under that species, but it is a brighter-looking, neater shrub, distinguished by the greater glossiness and smoothness of the young parts.
S. bicolor Willd. ? S. schraderiana Willd., in part. – This very close ally of S. phylicifolia has a scattered distribution in southern and central Europe (absent from the Alps). According to the Swedish authority Floderus, it differs, among other characters, in the shorter and usually yellowish or orange buds; the leaves silky-hairy at first; and the more numerous and shorter catkins. But it has been questioned whether the differential characters are constant.
S. hegetschweileri Heer S. rhaetica Kern. ex Anderss.; S. phylicifolia var. rhaetica (Kern.) Anderss.; S. phylicifolia var. hegetschweileri (Heer) Anderss.; S. bicolor subsp. rhaetica (Kern.) Floderus – Often taller growing than S. phylicifolia, and said to attain 15 ft or more in cultivation. Leaves almost entire, mostly elliptic, acute or acuminate, about 1 in. wide. Perhaps not cultivated in Britain, but said to be a handsome species.
Eastwards S. phylicifolia gives way to S. pulchra Cham.; this ranges through Siberia into N. America, where the complex is also represented by S. planifolia Pursh.
For the differences between this species and S. myrsinifolia (nigricans), see Meikle (op. cit.) pp. 136-7. This author does not recognise S. hibernica Rech. f. as a species distinct from S. phylicifolia. For this willow, of which there has been much discussion recentjy, see Year Book 1981 of the International Dendrology Society, pp. 112-13, and Charles Nelson, An Irish Flower Garden, pp. 20-21 (1984).