What is a Goat Willow?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Certain caterpillars feed on goat willow plants.
Certain caterpillars feed on goat willow plants.

With the scientific name Salix caprea, goat willow is a species that is found in Europe as well as central and western Asia. Also known as pussy willow, it is a small tree that reaches heights of around 19 to 39 feet (6 to 12 m). Its leaves measure around 1.2 to 4.7 inches (3 to 12 cm) in length and 0.8 to 3 inches (2 to 8 cm) in width. This tree has two varieties: Salix caprea var. caprea and Salix caprea var. sphacelata. The caprea variety is found in lower land regions, and the sphacelata variety is found in higher regions, particularly on high mountains.

The caprea variety can be distinguished by the density of its leaves. Its upper part has few leaves, while the lower part has dense leaves. On the other hand, the sphacelata variety is dense all over. Its leaves measure around 2.8 inches (7 cm), while the caprea variety’s grow up to 4.7 inches (12 cm) long.

Goat willow bark is gray, and the stem can appear yellow-red in the sun. It has flowers that bloom in the early spring before new leaves turn up. The flowers of this tree have a soft and silky texture and are characterized by their gray and yellow male catkins or silver and green female catkins, which both measure around 1.2 to 2.8 inches (3 to 7 cm) long. Insects and wind aid the tree in pollinating.

This tree produces small fruits that look like capsules and measure around 0.2 to 0.4 inches (5 to 10 mm) in length. Inside each fruit are many seeds that measure around only 0.008 inch (0.2 mm). For the seeds to grow into trees, they should be dispersed into bare soil.

The tree is able to thrive in both wet and dry environments, such as ditches and reedbeds, as long as there is bare soil. Caterpillars use goat willow as a food source by feeding on its leaves. It also serves as a rich habitat for moths and other insects. The tree is frequented by bees in early spring because it produces a large amount of nectar. If left to grow for a number of years, it can also attract a variety of finches.

Some people grow the goat willow as an addition to their garden. It is usually grafted to other willows since it is not able to form a leader. Foresters, on the other hand, often consider the tree a weed, as its bark cannot be used as timber because it is brittle and burns violently.

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    • Certain caterpillars feed on goat willow plants.
      By: epantha
      Certain caterpillars feed on goat willow plants.