Salix purpurea L.

TSO logo

Sponsor this page

For information about how you could sponsor this page, see How You Can Help


Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Salix purpurea' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-06-19.


Common Names

  • Purple Osier


  • S. helix of some authors, ? not L.


Attached singly along the axis not in pairs or whorls.
(pl. apices) Tip. apical At the apex.
Immature shoot protected by scales that develops into leaves and/or flowers.
Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
Grey-blue often from superficial layer of wax (bloom).
Lacking a stem or stalk.
Generally an elongated structure arising from the ovary bearing the stigma at its tip.


There are no active references in this article.


Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Salix purpurea' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-06-19.

A shrub with thin, graceful branches forming a loose-habited, spreading bush, 10 to 18 ft high under cultivation, rarely a small tree; young shoots glabrous, glossy, usually purplish where exposed to the sun, but often yellowish. Leaves linear, or narrowly oblong, mostly broadening somewhat above the middle, pointed at the apex, rounded or abruptly tapered at the base, minutely toothed towards the apex, glabrous except when quite young, dark glossy green above, more or less blue or glaucous beneath; 112 to 3 in. long, 18 to 13 in. wide; stalk about 14 in. long. Catkins produced on the naked shoots in April, 12 to 1 in. long, slender; scales hairy, dark in the upper part. Stamens solitary, but with two anthers. Ovaries sessile, hairy; style very short.

Native of much of Europe (except Scandinavia), and of North Africa, ranging east through temperate Asia to N. China; in Britain it is fairly widespread in wet places, up to 1,500 ft, but is not genuinely wild in some localities where it occurs, and is rare or absent in some areas. It is a variable species, and is remarkable in having many of its leaves opposite as well as alternate. The bark is as bitter as quinine, and very rich in salicine. The twigs are very supple and tough, and much used in the manufacture of fine basketwork. The osiers known as ‘Red-bud’, ‘Dicks’, ‘Kecks’, and ‘Welch’ belong to this species. As a garden shrub it is worth growing for the sake of its loose, elegant growth and the vivid blue-white of the under-surface of the leaves. It thrives in dryish ground better than most willows.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

S. integra – Probably belonging here is a cultivar the leaves of which are strongly variegated with white, flushed with pink when young. Its correct name would appear to be ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, but it is also sold as ‘Albomaculata’. The name ‘Fuiri-koriyanagi’, also used for it, is a descriptive phrase-name, meaning ‘variegated basket-willow’.


See under S. × rubra.

f. gracilis (Gren. & Godr.) Schneid.

S. purpurea var. gracilis Gren. & Godr

This form is typified by Sir James Smith’s description and figure of plants with slender catkins and of spreading decumbent habit that grew in the meadows opposite King Street, Norwich, and were considered by him to represent typical S. purpurea (Engl. Bot., Vol. 20 (1800), t. 1388). Such plants are indeed part of the normal variation of S. purpurea and do not need a distinguishing name. Schneider considered that the horticultural clone called S. purpurea nana was referable to f. gracilis; see ‘Nana’ below.

'Nana' ("Gracilis")

A roundish bush, usually less than 5 ft high and wide, which can be kept dense by annual clipping. Leaves slender, silvery grey In recent years ‘Nana’ has been renamed ‘Gracilis’ in some catalogues and works of reference, owing to an unfortunate confusion between botanical and horticultural synonymy. It was originally distributed by Dr Dieck of Zoeschen towards the end of the last century, but its origin has not been ascertained.


Grafted on standards 8 to 10 ft high, this makes a wide-spreading head with a tangle of more or less pendulous branches. It was at one time known erroneously as “American” weeping willow and also as “S. Napoleonis‘Scharfenbergensis’ is similar, but with shorter, more slender leaves.

var. lambertiana (Sm.) Koch

S. lambertiana Sm.
S. purpurea subsp. lambertiana (Sm.) A. Neumann ex Rech. f

A variety distinguished by its larger leaves (up to 4 in. long and {3/4} in. broad), distinctly wider above the middle; catkins also larger. Many botanists have considered S. lambertiana to be no more than a robust state of the species that merges into the typical state through intermediates. But, according to Dr Rechinger, who gives it the rank of a subspecies in Flora Europaea, this variant predominates in the lowlands of Europe, while the narrow-leaved typical state is commonest in mountainous regions.The type of var. lambertiana was collected around 1800 by A. B. Lambert of Boyton, Wilts, according to whom the stand of this willow stretched for about sixteen miles along the River Wylye, in Wiltshire.


Leaves broadly oblanceolate, with a rather long cuneate base. Branchlets yellowish. (S. woolgariana Sm.) Named in honour of a Mr Woolgar, who had willow grounds near Lewes.S. × doniana Sm. S. purpurea × S. repens – A shrub 3 to 6 ft high, with reddish brown or rust-coloured branchlets. The influence of S. purpurea shows in such characters as: leaves broadest above the middle, narrowed to the base, toothed, if at all, in the upper part, often opposite on the lower part of the shoot; catkins dense, cylindrical; filaments of stamens more or less connate. The presence of S. repens in the parentage shows in: leaves slightly revolute, silky beneath at least when young, sometimes entire; anthers yellow or brick-red; ovary definitely stalked, with a short style. An uncommon hybrid, described from a plant sent to Sir James Smith by George Don of Forfar (d. 1814), one of the first investigators of the flora of the Scottish Highlands and father of the botanists George and David Don. The original plant was female, as are most of the plants recorded from Britain, but a male was raised by the Rev. E. F. Linton and distributed by him.S. × pontederana Willd. (excl. syn. S. pontederae Vill.) S. sordida Kern., not Schleich. ex Ser. S. purpurea × S. cinerea – A rather neat willow with downy twigs (often soon becoming glabrous.) Leaves narrowly obovate, oblong, or sometimes oval, tapered at both ends, most abruptly at the apex, varying from almost entire to rather prominently toothed, 1 to 2{1/2} in. long, {1/3} to {3/4} in. wide, dark glossy green above, conspicuously blue-white, and at first downy beneath. The influence of S. purpurea is seen in the glaucous under-surface of the leaf, and especially in the two stamens being more or less united by their stalks. Like nearly all hybrid willows, S. × pontederana varies in its approaches now to one parent now to another. It is at its best as a garden shrub when it most resembles S. purpurea.This hybrid has been found on the River Tay near Perth, and also occurs on the continent.S. × wimmeriana Gren. & Godr. S. purpurea-caprea Wimm.; S. × pontederana var. grenierana Anderss. – A rare hybrid in the wild, similar to S. × pontederana and difficult to distinguish from it. There is a male clone in commerce.S. amplexicaulis Bory & Chaubard S. purpurea subsp. amplexicaulis (Bory & Chaubard) Schneid. – Leaves mostly opposite, almost sessile, truncate to cordate at the base, serrate almost throughout their length. Native of S.E. Europe and Asia Minor.S. elbursensis Boiss. – Very near to S. purpurea, which it replaces in the Caucasus, Iran and E. Anatolia. Catkin-buds smaller. Catkins longer-stalked, the scales of the female catkins green or brownish, sparsely hairy (Fl. Iranica, Salicaceae (1969), p. 36). Introduced from N. Iran by Roy Lancaster in 1972.S. Integra Thunb. S. multinervis Franch. & Sav., not Doel; S. purpurea var. multinervis (Franch. & Sav.) Koidz.; S. p. subsp. amplexicaulis var. multinervis (Franch. & Sav.) Schneid. – Leaves mostly opposite, almost sessile, up to 2{3/8} in. long and {7/8} in. wide, obtuse or subacute at the apex, cordate at the base. Catkins and flowers as in S. purpurea. Native of Japan, very near to the western S. amplexicaulis.A hybrid of S. integra is ‘Ginme’, a vigorous, spreading shrub, its green stems glabrous by late summer. Leaves closely set, oblong, obtuse to pointed at the apex, narrowed to a truncate base, up to 4{1/2} in. long and 1{1/4} in. wide, finely serrate, rich green and slightly glossy above, blue-green, finely veined and sparsely hairy beneath. A female clone; catkins pinkish, shortly stalked, about {7/8} in. long, appearing in early spring. It is considered to belong to S. × tsugaluensis Koidz., a natural hybrid between S. integra and the Japanese sallow S. vulpina (see p. 308). One of the best of the garden willows, free-flowering and with handsome foliage.S. koriyanagi Kimura S. purpurea var. japonica Nakai – Near to S. purpurea, from which it differs in its leaves, which are narrowly oblong-lanceolate, tapered at the apex to a fine point. Other points of distinction given by Nakai are: the more hairy catkin-scales; longer stamens with darker anthers; ovary tapering into the style. Described by Nakai under the synonymous name from Korean plants; known in Japan only as a cultivated tree, grown for basketry and for ornament. The plants in commerce in Britain are a male clone of upright growth with green young stems.S. miyabeana Seem. S. dahurica Turcz. ex Lakschewitz – This is the principal eastern counterpart of S. purpurea, with a wide distribution in N.E. Asia, including much of Japan and N. China. It differs from S. purpurea in having the leaves toothed to the base, and well-developed stipules, which are narrow and toothed. A graceful species, with narrow, finely tapered leaves. Both sexes are in cultivation. Some plants cultivated as S. miyabeana agree better with S. gilgiana Seem., a closely related species confined to Japan and Korea, with stouter growths, downy when young.