Salix babylonica ‘Navajo’
babylonica = named by Linnaeus,
who thought that this species was from Babylon
Taxonomists have decided that this is a Salix babylonica selection and not Salix matsudana. Navajo Willow is a female clone from a single specimen of S. babylonica ‘Umbraculifera’ (Umbraculifera = umbrella shaped) brought back from China by a missionary and planted on Navajo land near Farmington in Northwestern New Mexico over 150 years ago. In 1957 this land was bought by an ex-New Mexican Governor, rancher and oilman named Tom Bolack who recognized the value of this tree as it had survived so many years with no care whatsoever on such arid land. He propagated over a million of them and distributed 50,000 of them, often free of charge, to cities and communities throughout New Mexico in order to turn New Mexico green! As one drives through cities, villages and pueblos many specimens can be seen often providing much needed shade for humble and luxurious dwellings. His property, B-Square Ranch, Farmington NM is now a wildlife preserve, run by his son Tommy. The finest specimen I’ve seen is 60ft across and 30-40ft tall in the city of Santa Fe, NM. Bolack also planted many in Carmel NY in memory of a school teacher killed in a traffic accident. ‘Navajo’ can be found in such disparate locations as Vero Beach, Florida and North Dakota. In 1969 ‘Navajo’ trees were planted inthe landscape outside Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine CA. I located a plant near us in the town of St. Albans VT planted near the railroad station and am very curious how it got there (sadly this tree was removed in 2018). Catkins appear with the leaves in early spring and the twigs are covered with pale green foliage and female catkins; in summer the leaves turn a bright yellowish-green. In fall the leaves turn golden yellow and the NM landscape is dotted with these glorious golden domes. Sometimes listed erroneously as Salix babylonica ‘Globe’, but that's one of its common names. Hardy to Zone 5.
USES: A fine round-headed ornamental plant that is equally happy in Northern Vermont, New Mexico, Florida, North Dakota and Los Angeles! Great for sleeping and picnicking under in the heat of summer.
Below is a link to the story of Tom Bolack and the Navajo Willow from Sports Illustrated:
Here is a typical round-headed mature Navajo Willow seen in March 2013 growing in Santa Fe, New Mexico where it is fairly common. Once established this willow will thrive in very dry conditions as well as moist areas in the rest of the country. They have this attractive mist of yellowish-green young growth that gets brighter as winter fades.
below: The same tree on November 15, 2013, with a more typical New Mexico Sky!
Here's a group of three magnificent trees in a northern New Mexico village in November!
Long, linear leaves and slender branches start red. Leaves quickly turn green and the stems dark brown.
Female catkins appear in great abundance with the leaves; late March in NM and late April in VT.
Beautiful yellow fall foliage of the 'Navajo' Willow.
Trees shading a one-story adobe house in NM. Probably never been watered in 40 years!
Surprisingly, Weeping Willows grow as well as 'Navajo' in New Mexico and not in a wet spot either. This shows a comparison in the scale of the two East Asians.
The Wonderful World of Willows
Vermont Willow Nursery
$14.50 per bundle of 5
Beautiful bark is another feature of mature Globe Willows.
A typical Northern New Mexico scene in autumn with Chamisa front right; Salix exigua, middle right;
Russian Olive (small gray trees); 'Navajo' behind that; Lombardy Poplar to the left and Tamarix (called Salt Cedar in the Southwest) on the far left edge with orange fall color.
Lombardy Poplar is certainly worth growing in the arid Southwest (not so in the humid East!)
BTW Russian Olive and Tamarix are both nasty invasives here!
Maybe one of the oldest and largest specimens in New Mexico (if not the Western World), this magnificent tree in the courtyard of the Los Alamos High School. Obviously radioactivity agrees with it! It just could be one of the original trees brought by the missionary from China it looks so old! The City of Los Alamos has gone to much trouble not to disturb this tree in the building and renovations of the school!
Above 2/23/2017 with new growth sprouting, about 15ft around at the base. Above courtesy of Ms Joan Ahlers, Chief Operations Officer, Los Alamos School District,
Ms Ahlers told me lots of time and money is spent caring for this tree!
Female catkins 2-3in long on young plants in the nursery.
Here is a 'Navajo' alongside a very large weeping willow, probably Salix xsalamonii 'Chrysocoma'. There are many weeping willows in Northern New Mexico and that really surprises me as it is so dry.