caroliniana = from Carolina
(the area that encompassed almost all of the Southeast!)
I nearly flipped when I saw this willow in flower for the first time in the Chicago Botanical Garden in May 2015, as I had no idea what I was looking at! It was so different than any other willow I had ever seen! It was labelled Salix sp? and I had taken cuttings the previous March so I knew what the foliage looked like and I had guessed it maybe the Carolina Willow, but until I saw the catkins I was not certain. I also knew the male catkins looked like those of the Black Willow (S. nigra), so once I calmed down, I was darned certain it was the Carolina Willow. I immediately thought to myself "why the heck isn't this great ornamental willow grown in more gardens?" I have not seen this species in any Public Garden or nursery list (try Googling it!). Also, I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting it in the wild; although I looked for it in Arkansas and Virginia as I passed though in March, 2015. I realized afterwards that I was probably too early, it probably flowers in April there.
Anyway, take my word for it, this is a great plant; hardy in Northern Vermont where it survived temperatures dropping to –25°F for 30 straight days in the winter of 2014-2015 without a blemish! After flowering the long arching branches are clothed with attractive clean green leaves that are glaucous underneath. It also has prominent stipules at the base of the leaf petioles. It flowers the next year from cuttings stuck in spring—S. nigra hasn't flowered in the nursery after years of growing it!
USES: a great ornamental shrub for medium sized gardens, great cut flower for unique flower arrangements.
This is what I saw when I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden in May 2015. The catkins were just starting to show their anthers, so in a few days this would have been even showier. Anyway, what a setting against the purple flowers of the Eastern Red-bud (Cercis canadensis). Horticulturists at CBG know what they are doing!
Here is a 3/4 open male flower shown on it's 2-3in leafy stem.
The foliage of the Carolina willow is so cool! Rarely a blemish, green above, glaucous below with large stipules at the base of each leaf petiole.
Catkins appear on short vegetative growths that appear all round the long arching stems.
Providing a show reminiscent of Acacias seen in California gardens and in Australia.
After I returned from Chicago, the cuttings I had taken the previous year were in full flower. This is very different from S. nigra as my stock of that species has never flowered in the nursery as I coppice it every year. The Carolina Willow flowers first year! Late May.
Beautiful arching foliage of the Carolina Willow with clean, green foliage.
Undersides of the foliage at showing the blue-gray glaucous coating
New leaves are tinged red as are so many other willows, the upper surfaces are smooth.
Species present not rare
Species extinct in this county
A young green shoot showing the lovely green leaves and the relatively large stipules at the bases of the petioles
An older red stem exposed to sunlight.
No flower buds visible.
Distribution of S. caroliniana, a native Species
Map used by permission of Dr John Kartesz & BONAP
A Botanical Note about Salix Catkins:
There is a generalized rule that catkins that appear before the leaves (precocious) have flower buds that are large and often showy!
Those that produce catkins with the leaves (coetaneous), often on short leafy stems, have smaller flower buds.
Salix caroliniana has coetaneous catkins, small buds, but the catkins are as showy as any willow!
$14.50 per bundle of 5
Notice how well these yellow catkins stand out against a dark backround, remember this when you think about where you plant this native gem.
Each catkin can grow to 4in long providing lots of pollen for bees in late May.
The Wonderful World of Willows
Vermont Willow Nursery