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A low or prostrate shrub, forming large patches on the ground, but only rising from it as a rule 5 or 6 in., rarely 12 in.; young branches somewhat angled, shining brown, and glabrous except at first, when they are more or less silky-hairy. Leaves mostly two to four on each twig, 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. long; round, roundish oval or broadly obovate, not toothed, slightly indented, rounded, or sometimes tapered at the apex, deep green and much wrinkled above, glaucous white, prominently net-veined and sometimes silky beneath; stalk 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. long. Catkins cylindrical, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, produced in May and June on slender stalks 1 in. long, at the end of the twig opposite the uppermost leaf.
Native of the arctic and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, extending southward in Eurasia to the mountains of central and southern Europe, eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, and in America into the Rocky Mountains. In Scotland it is recorded from several localities in the Highlands above 2,000 ft, but is commonest in the Breadalbane Mountains of Perthshire, and is mainly confined to basic soils. Even in the Alps it is by no means common, and most likely to be found on the limestone ranges, in places where the snow lies long.
It is a very interesting dwarf willow, distinct from all others (except some allied American and Asiatic species) in its long-stalked leaves, long, naked peduncles, and above all in the large, deeply divided nectary, enclosing the base of the ovary in the female flowers.