Salix caprea  

caprea = goat  

Pussy Willow, Sallow, Goat Willow or Big Momma Willow

A large shrub or small tree from 15-40ft that grows wild in Western Europe and all the way East to China and Japan. In Japan it is called Salix bakko, which translated means Big Momma Willow! Leaves are much broader than most willows. Flower buds are shiny chestnut brown and open to much-prized catkins that are soft, silky and silvery to 3in long; they are produced early in the year long before the leaves develop. Male flowers turn yellow with pollen, whereas the female catkins become green. A non-fussy shrub that will grow anywhere with dry to moist soil. This species has naturalized in parts of the Province of Quebec. Hardy to Zone 3.

USES: ornamental shrub, prune regularly to keep a steady supply of young shoots that provide the most flowers; bring cut stems indoors for early bouquets

Male catkins popping out of the many buds, great cut-stems in March.



Female catkins with fluffy seed heads that will blow away and, if lucky, will land in just the right place to germinate. The foliage is reticulate, which means with netted veins, but much rounder than the similar S. bebbiana. We don't have a female caprea plant.

Internet photo, photographer unknown

A mature plant growing wild in Europe covered in buds and flowers!

A mature tree in the Albuquerque Botanic Garden, New Mexico.

Rather a lot of bloom don't you think! Mid-February.

The Wonderful World of Willows

Vermont Willow Nursery

$14.50 per bundle of 5

Undersides of the leaves

are glaucous (blue-green).

     photo courtesy Graham Calow

Salix caprea by a pond in Tenafly NJ in late March.

The distinctive red flower buds of Salix caprea covered with fine hairs, as are the stems and leaf petiole. A show almost equal to the flowers, with all winter to enjoy these touches of color in the dreary days of winter! Mid-October

Young leaves of Salix caprea with their distinctive

reticulate venation and crinkled edges. Mid-May

Flower bud development: late October left, calyx splitting center and right mid-April.

The way the calyx splits is one of the characteristics of the Goat Willow.

right: A macro shot of the Goat Willow catkins showing the anthers escaping from their furry bed to allow insects access!

Photo by Brian Johnston

The anthers are pinish-orange when they first appear, but as soon as the pollen appears they turn golden-yellow. Photo in late March.

A fabulous specimen of Salix caprea by a pond in Tenafly NJ in late March.

above: a beautiful shaped

specimen by the same pond.

middle: gray-green bark on a mature plant.

left: deer damage caused by male deer rubbing off the fur coating on their new antlers.

Salix caprea subspecies sphacelata

Giant Goat Willow

Salix caprea ssp. sphacelata near Lake Ostenjovannet, Skoyenasen, Oslo.

This extraordinary willow is not known in North America and taxonomists worldwide have not really dealt with this, basically ignoring it. It develops into a tree unlike the species Salix caprea. I saw specimens in Norway that were at least 60ft tall; some were single trunked trees while others had multiple trunks. As we sailed along the Norwegian Coast in a ferry, I noticed lots of gray-leaved trees amongst the Norway Spruce, Birch and Mountain Ash (see photo below).

At the time I had no idea what they were. I found out when I visited the Tromso Botanical Garden where they had specimens in the garden and the Director was able to help me with the identity. At that time, the ground under the trees were littered with thousands of fallen female catkins, looking like a mass of gray caterpillars. Male willow catkins fall off earlier. I found some fresh seed and managed to get a few seedlings, two have survived in Vermont!  It will be a while before they are offered for sale!

Coastal Norway from the Hurtigruten Ferry. All the light gray trees are Salix caprea ssp.sphacelata. Rather impressive, wouldn't you say!

Sphacelata foliage

Sphacelata foliage underneath

Catkins littering the ground.

Catkins on a young branch.

Sphacelata female catkins

Sphacelata seedlings on a soddy roof at the artist Astrup's House

The Norwegian Artist, Nikolai Astrup, painted this famous willow in 1917 and the scenery behind looks just like the view from his house. It was titled 'Marsmorgen'; translates to 'March Morning'! He also painted a similar painting entitled 'Spring Night and Willow Goblin', also in 2017.