The Wonderful World of Willows
Vermont Willow Nursery
after Chaenomeles (flowering Quince)
Not available at this time, for reference only!
A personal story! I was first aware that what I was selling as S. chaenomeloides was not the true species when I grew on cuttings obtained from two plants at the Holden Arboretum (with permission) labeled Salix sp. Korea. They were unlike anything that I had ever seen before in a willow! New growth was bright red, the leaves were large and thin, the stipules at the base of the leaves were also large, rounded and leafy, just like Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)! The strangest thing was that the base of the leaf had glands on them, the petioles (leaf stems) had glands on them and the stipules had glands on them--even the glands had glands on them!
I remembered when I first read the description of Salix chaenomeloides in the Flora of China, that the description was nothing like the plant that was generally available in the trade and also my plants, bought from a reputable wholesale nursery. So I dismissed the Chinese description and hoped that someday the truth would out; it was such a great plant and wrong name or not, it had to be offered! Well in 2015 that happened! I realized that what I was growing from the Holden Arboretum looked like Flowering Quince leaves (although the glands aren't part of what I think of in Chaenomeles, but the stipules are leafy). So I remembered my initial confusion on the Chinese description of Salix chaenomeloides and Eureka! I finally had the real thing! So what to do about it? What was I growing?
I contacted two of my Salix gurus: Dr. Irina Belyaeva of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Dr. Julia Kuzovkina of the University of Connecticut, both of whom I have the highest respect for. Turned out that they had independently been working on the true identity of the plant the West called S. chaenomeloides! Julia did a DNA test and found a strong influence of S. gracilistyla in its genetic make up. In the meantime I stumbled upon a Japanese website with lots of photos of willows, including the true S. chaenomeloides. So I sent photos to the sites creator and asked him about the West's version of S. chaenomeloides. He told me that it was a cross between S. gracilistyla and S. bakko (Big Momma Willow) and one such selection had been named S. x leucopithecia in the 1980's. Excitedly, I contacted Irina and Julia and was told that they had found the same reference and that S. bakko was the Japanese name for S. caprea! There was already a plant in the trade of this gracilistyla x caprea cross, it being Salix 'The Hague', a female selection. Initially it was called S. xhagensis and was created in The Hague, Netherlands.
As a result of this, we had to come up with a new name widely distributed plant in North America and Europe! After much consideration and deliberation I coined the name , as in October it starts its winter show with large bright red flower buds that in a sunny location start to open with silky silvery white hairs popping out of the buds. Then in mild weather in late February the rest of the catkin appears. If you cut stems of the opening buds and bring them in the house, they will open in less that a week bringing much needed relief from Winter! As soon as weather is warm enough for bees to be about, the reddish anthers appear. Soon they explode with yellow pollen and early bees collect the pollen and nectar! The timing as I describe it is in Northern Vermont. In warmer climes, this all happens earlier. Irina and Julia accepted the name and these discoveries were publishing in a learned article. (See link below)
above: Leaves and stipules of flowering quince, Chaenomeles after which this species is named!
below: leaves of Salix chaenomeloides with similar large stipules
below: The two trees of Salix chaenomeloides at the Holden Arboretum in Ohio.
above: young branches of Salix chaenomeloides have a distintive arching characteristic.
below: leaves of Salix chaenomeloides are smooth on the upper side and glaucous beneath.
A Botanical Boo-boo!
Below is what was in the trade as Salix chaenomeloides before we found out that this was a big mistake!
Leaves and flowers are very different. These showy red flower buds burst open in March and are male flowered.
No similarity whatsoever! This is now .
below: The female flowers are coetaneous (flower with the leaves) and open in late May
the overwintering flower buds are inconspicuous.
Clarifying Affiliations of Salix gracilistyla Miq. Cultivars and Hybrids