Yezo Willow

Yezo Dwarf Willow,
a groundcover
pussy willow

Salix yezoalpina is a dwarf pussy willow that grows entirely prostrate. It is rarely more than a foot tall including its large upright catkins or pussies, & generally only six inches. It has a stalky little trunk scarcely ever more than three or four inches tall, which gets thicker year by year without adding height. Its limbs radiate & twist outward from the top of that stubby trunk as from the spoke of a wheel. It can spread to three or four feet in all directions for an eight foot spread, rooting itself wherever the horizontal limbs touch the ground.

When the gorgeous yellow & white pussy catkins are worn out at the end of spring, this dwarf willow still has a considerable interest because of the white fur on the glossy green leaves, & its spider-web shape hugging the ground. In Autumn the leaves turn a rich yellow with bronzes & reds, as shown on the Yezo Willow Page of the Autumn Leaves Gallery. Even in the dead of winter it's intriguing with the purplish, thick, spidery limbs bared against dark loam.

Ours was only two feet wide in 2002, & eight inches tall when the catkins are in bloom giving it a two inch boost. In 2003 it had doubled its sideways reach & had to be pruned to keep it from spreading out of the garden altogether & into the lawn. , Other than the occasional limb crawling off to where it is not wanted, it requires no pruning, but stays low-growing without assistance. If pruning ever is necessary it should be done late in winter. Yezo dwarf willow is sometimes adapted to bonsai because the substantial thickness of the tiny trunk, & outreaching limbs, mean it's ready-made for novice bonsai practitioners.

Ours is growing in a semi-shady spot at the foot of the birdbath. This alpine shrub tolerates almost any sunlight exposure from full sun to a predominance of shade, but has better catkins in sun. It is very cold-hardy but does not do well in warm climates.

It can be a little late to regain its leaves in spring. In early April ours still has not a leaf on it but shows off its developing pussy-buds. By the last week in April when the above photo was taken, the furry leaves are well developed, though they will get bigger still, & the pussies are one to two inches tall.

It is native of the Snow Country of Japan, which is to say, mountainous Hokkaido. It demands less water than most willows, as is true of willows that have fur on both sides of their leaves ("tomentose" leaves being adapted to dryer locations).


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