A mature red willow (Salix laevigata) growing in Oxbow Nature Study Area, Reno. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.
- A tree willow.
- Leaves: Long and narrow, shiny on top and dull below.
- Bark: Dark in color. Twigs red to yellowish brown.
- Flowers: Male and female flowers on separate plants (monoecious). Mar-May.
In general, willows are very difficult to identify. Positive identification of most willow species requires a flower, a microscope, a detailed plant key and lots of patience. If you’d like to give that a try, information on how to identify a red willow is available from the Jepson Herbarium:
Other characteristics such as size (tree vs. shrub) and location can offer useful clues. Most of the tree willows that grow along the Truckee River in the Reno area are red willow (Salix laevigata). They grow up to 65ft (20m) feet tall, with a dark-colored trunk and an eye-pleasing shape — arguably one of our most beautiful species of riparian trees. They are one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring, appearing in bright green when most other riverbank vegetation is still wintery brown.
Closer to Pyramid Lake, another fairly common species of Truckee River tree willow is the peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides). Peachleaf willow tend to be somewhat smaller and scrubbier than red willow. Their leaves are a little bit broader, and hang down rather than standing upright on the branch.
Regardless of species, all types of willows contain salicin, similar to asprin. Leaves, bark, twigs or roots can be made into a tea with painkilling properties (Vizgirdas & Rey-Vizgirdas 2006).
References & Links
Argus, George. 2014. Salix laevigata, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora. Available: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_IJM.pl?tid=42850. Accessed April 23, 2016.
Calflora. 2016. Salix laevigata. Berkeley, California: The Calflora Database. Available: http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=7276. Accessed: Apr 23, 2016.
USDA. 2016. Salix laevigata, Red Willow. Available: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SALA3
Vizgirdas, Ray. S. and Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas. 2006. Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.