Description & Overview

Shining Willow is named for its leaves, which are bright green and glossy from above and pale underneath, giving it a mirror-like appearance. This small, shrubby tree has grey bark and stems that quickly reach heights of 25′. Male and female flowers emerge alongside the leaves but are borne on separate plants, showing as yellow catkins. When ripe, the catkins become covered in a cottony fluff that allows for wind or water dispersal.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 2

Mature Height: 25 feet

Mature Spread: 25 feet

Growth Rate: Very Fast

Growth Form: Multi-stemmed

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Wet

Flower: Dioecious, yellow-greenish, 0.75-2.25" long

Bloom Period: May-June, Mid-late spring

Foliage: Shiny, green, 2-5" long, lance-elliptic

Fall Color: Yellow, insignificant

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Hairless, beacked capsule covered in cottony hairs

Suggested Uses

Shining Willow adds great ecological value to the restoration of riparian areas and waterways, as its dense matrix of roots can serve as an effective filter for shallow groundwater, trapping nutrients and sediments, and preventing surface runoff. Overhanging roots on river banks creates a habitat for fish and other organisms. The tree canopy provides shade for stream water, benefitting myriad creatures living in the water.

The extensive root system of Shining Willow can help control infestations of Reed Canary Grass, an exotic invasive that can take over native marshes quickly and thoroughly.

Shining Willow is best used in habitat restoration, or on a site with plenty of space away from structures. Most, if not all willows have weak wood susceptible to wind, ice, and storm damage, leading to a potential for the destruction of structures, cars, or lawn furniture. Additionally, shallow, spreading roots may cause damage to sewer, water, or utility pipes. Unless a homeowner has a site along a retention pond or river with plenty of space, Shining Willow is not an ideal plant for a typical landscape.

Wildlife Value

The wood is browsed upon by snowshoe hares, beavers, elk, and moose. Birds will eat the willow buds and young twigs. Occasionally, Prothonotary warblers, Warbling Vireos, Red-winged Blackbirds, herons, Willow Flycatchers, Tree Swallows, and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers will use young trees, larger trees, or dead snags as nesting sites.

As a tree that is readily found on river banks, it is often used in beaver dams. Trout benefits from Shining Willow’s shade as the cooler temperatures facilitate egg laying.

Willows are among the first plants to provide nectar and pollen to honey bees after winter. Visitors include specialist bees including Mining bees (Andrena spp.): Sandbar Willow Fairy bees (Perdita maculigera), Colorful Willow Miner bees (Andrena andrenoides), Clark’s Miner bees (Andrena clarkella), Andrena wellesleyana, Small Willow Miner bees (Andrena salictaria).

Shining Willow is a larval host plant for the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis), Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum), Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Palmerworm moth (Dichomeris ligulella), Twin-spotted sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis), Tawny Pug moth (Eupithecia ravocostaliata), Columbia silkmoth (Hyalophora columbia), Clemen’s sphinx (Sphinx luscitiosa), Darling Underwing (Catocala cara), St. Lawrence Tiger moth (Platarctia parthenos), Tufted Apple-Bug moth (Platynota idaeusalis), Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus), and Io Moth (Automeris io).

Maintenance Tips

Willows are sometimes considered a high-maintenance tree as their fast growth rate means their branches are brittle, making them susceptible to breaking and wind damage.

As a native tree, Shining Willow is susceptible to Cottonwood Leaf Beetle, Willow Sawfly, Willow Blight, stem borers, twig borers, and cankers. Keeping the soil wet will reduce the stress on the tree and its likelihood to be attacked by these pests.


Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Rabbits and deer will readily browse upon Shining Willow.

The site must not be allowed to dry out.

Leaf Lore

The specific epithet lucida means ‘bright, shining, clear’ for the shiny tops of the leaves.

Many parts of the willow are, and have been used historically, as medicine. The bark has been used to treat bleeding cuts, toothaches, asthma, and even to clean teeth. The leaves have been used for the treatment of sore throats and colds, pneumonia, and headaches, and as ceremonial emetics. Willows were said to cure laryngitis and even reduce inflammation of joints. They were also used as a substitute for tobacco. The wood has been used to make baskets, fish weirs, mallet heads, home construction, cooking utensils, fishing traps, and bows. The inner bark can be eaten raw, or made into a flower.

We have no native willows that ‘weep’ – only the non-natives do.

Companion Plants

Companion plants that do well in riparian areas include Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Marsh Bluegrass (Poa palustris), Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), River Birch (Betula nigra), Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Speckled Alder (Alnus incana var. rugosa), Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), and American Elm (Ulmus americana).

Other plants to incorporate into a water garden include Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum), Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), Shreve’s Iris (Iris viriginica var. shrevei), Tamarack (Larix laricina), Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Meadow Anemone (Anemone canadensis), Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica), Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

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Written by Beth DeLain