Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Uchytil, Ronald J. 1991. Salix alaxensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
Salix longistylis Rydb.
Salix alaxensis ssp. longistylis (Rydb.) Hult.
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of Alaska willow is Salix
alaxensis (Andersson) Coville [3,6]. Two varieties, based on
geographical and ecological separation, are currently recognized:
var. alaxensis - occurs in the arctic, and in lower latitude alpine
and subalpine environments
var. longistylis (Rydb.) Schneid - occurs in boreal regions at lower
elevations; its range does not
extend to the Arctic
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Alaska willow occurs throughout Alaska but is absent from most of the
Alleutian Islands, some Bearing Sea islands, and southeastern Alaska
south of Glacier Bay . It does not occur in the contiguous United
States. It is distributed throughout northwestern Canada from the
northwest side of Hudson Bay west to the northern Yukon Territory and
south to central British Columbia [6,24].
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES23 Fir - spruce
AK AB BC NT PQ YT
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
SAF COVER TYPES :
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
251 White spruce - aspen
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Alaska willow dominates early seral willow communities along the banks
of rivers and streams. These short-lived communities are common and
widespread throughout Alaska [17,37].
Published classifications describing Alaska willow community types are
Area Classification Authority
AK general veg. cts Viereck & Dyrness 1980
nw AK general veg. cts Hanson 1953
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Alaska willow is often the only wood available for fuel in parts of
northern Alaska .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Alaska willow is an extremely important moose browse. When browsing,
moose often pull down and break Alaska willow branches and trunks up to
1.5 inches (4 cm) in diameter . A study on the north slope of
Alaska indicated that moose browsing of Alaska willow thickets was
intense, with up to 90 percent of available twigs eaten every winter.
In some areas of the north slope, it provided over 95 percent of winter
moose browse . In Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska willow
accounted for 44 percent of all biomass consumed by moose in winter
Willows (Salix spp.) in general are a preferred food and building
material of beaver . Willow shoots, catkins, leaves, and buds are
eaten by numerous small mammals and birds . Alaska willow is
browsed by snowshoe hare, sometimes quite heavily .
Alaska willow is highly palatable to moose. Moose prefer it over tall
blueberry willow (Salix novae-angliae), Park willow (S. monticola),
tealeaf willow (S. planifolia ssp. pulchra), littletree willow (S.
arbusculoides), highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule), paper birch (Betula
papyrifera), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and aspen (P.
tremuloides); but it is less palatable than sandbar willow (Salix
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Alaska willow stems have relatively high moisture, protein, and caloric
contents . Stems collected in March from the interior of Alaska,
had the following nutritional values :
(percent by dry weight)
protein ether extract crude fiber nitrogen free extract
7.0 2.7 33.6 54.5
Nutritional data from an analysis of Alaska willow collected between
January and April in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, are
presented below :
gross energy % in vitro digestible crude protein constituents
(Kcal/gram) organic matter (% dry matter) (% dry matter)
5.14 38.8 7.1 57.6
fiber lignin ash ether extract
(% dry matter) (% dry matter) (% dry matter) (% dry matter)
43.6 16.6 2.0 7.7
COVER VALUE :
Alaska willow forms thickets which presumably provide cover for
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Within its range, Alaska willow is recommended for wildlife habitat
restoration, streambank protection, and reclamation of sites disturbed
by mining and construction. Alaska willow cuttings successfully
established on sites disturbed by pipeline construction in Alaska 
and in the Northwest Territories . The Alaska Plant Materials
Center released the cultivar 'Rhode' for this project in 1985 .
Three general methods of planting Alaska willow on disturbed sites in
Alaska are: (1) planting cuttings [9,10,18,27,33], (2) transplanting
containerized rooted cuttings or seedlings [8,48], and (3) planting
bundles of dormant branches .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
All willows produce salacin, which is closely related chemically to
aspirin. Native Americans used various preparations from willows to
treat tooth ache, stomache ache, diarrhea, dysentery, and dandruff .
Native Americans also used flexible willow stems for making baskets,
bows, arrows, scoops, and fish traps . Hulten  reported that
native peoples of Alaska ate the inner bark of Alaska willow.
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Alaska willow is a deciduous shrub or small tree reaching heights of 20
to 30 feet (6-9 m) and stem diameters of 4 to 7 inches (10-18 cm) .
In exposed high arctic and alpine sites it may assume a low,
semiprostrate growth form . The bark is gray and smooth but becomes
rough and furrowed into scaly plates with age . Male and female
flowers occur on separate plants in 2- to 4-inch-long (5-10 cm) erect
catkins . The fruit is two-valved capsule.
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Alaska willow's primary mode of reproduction is sexual. It produces an
abundance of small, light-weight seeds. Like most willows, it probably
begins seed production at an early age (between 2 and 10 years) .
At maturity, the fruit splits open, releasing the seed. Each seed has a
cottony down that aids in dispersal by wind and water. The seeds are
dispersed during the growing season. They remain viable for only about
1 week without moisture. Viable seeds will germinate within 24 hours of
dispersal on moist seedbeds . In germination tests, 94 to 97
percent of the seeds germinated within 1 to 3 days at temperatures
between 50 and 77 degrees F (10-25 deg C) . Seedlings are common on
freshly deposited river alluvium [5,37,42]. Silty soil tends to be a
good germination medium because it usually remains moist; however, sandy
soils is a poor germination medium because it tend to be dry .
Forest litter prevents Alaska willow germination and establishment .
Seedlings readily establish on disturbed forested sites where mineral
soil is exposed.
Vegetative reproduction: Alaska willow sprouts from the rootcrown or
stem base if aboveground stems are broken or destroyed by cutting,
flooding, or fire . Detached stem fragments quickly form
adventitious roots if kept moist. Thus, Alaska willow stem fragments
transported by floodwaters develop into new plants when deposited on
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Alaska willow is shade-intolerant and usually found in open or semi-open
habitats such as stream and riverbanks, lakeshores, alpine slopes and
meadows or less frequently in forest openings [3,6,17]. It is
relatively common in open white spruce (Picea glauca) forests, but is
otherwise restricted to forest openings in more dense forests [36,40].
Associates: Alaska willow often mixes with other willows, including
Bebb willow (S. bebbiana), grayleaf willow (S. glauca), Sitka willow (S.
sitchensis), Pacific willow (S. lasiandra), barren-ground willow (S.
brachycarpa), halberd willow (S. hastata), littletree willow, and
tealeaf willow [1,3,12,37]. Alders (Alnus spp.) and cottonwoods and
poplars (Populus spp.) are also commonly associated with Alaska willow.
Common herbaceous associates include horsetails (Equisetum spp.) and
bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) [1,17,37].
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Alaska willow is an early seral species. Abundant wind-dispersed seed
and rapid seed germination allow it to quickly colonize moist disturbed
sites. It is one of the first species to colonize newly formed silt
bars following flooding, where it quickly forms thickets . It also
pioneers recently deglaciated sites .
Alaska willow communities are usually short-lived. Thinleaf alder
(Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia) often establishes within 5 years of
initial Alaska willow colonization . Balsam poplar often
establishes with or shortly after the alder, and 20 to 30 years after
Alaska willow first colonized the site, the poplars begin to overtop the
brushy canopy and dominate. By this stage in succession, overstory shade
has eliminated most Alaska willow plants, but some may persist as
scattered individuals . In riverbank communities of the Tanana
River, near Fairbanks, the oldest Alaska willow was 48 years old and
found in the balsam poplar stage of succession . As the river
terrace builds up, these sites eventually become climax white spruce
In northern Alaska, pioneer Alaska willow communities on river alluvium
are also short-lived. They are replaced by low-statured willows and
dwarf shrubs which form dwarf heath meadow communities [5,9].
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Alaska willow catkins appear in the spring before the leaves. In
Alaska, flowering generally occurs in May and June, and seeds generally
mature in June and July . Seeds are dispersed shortly after
ripening. In general, seeds are dispersed later as latitude and
elevation increase . Dispersal often coincides with receding spring
floodwaters, when newly exposed mineral soil seedbeds are moist .
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Alaska willow is a fire-adapted species. Most plants sprout from the
root crown following top-kill by fire [31,47]. Viereck and
Schandelmeier  reported that even old, decadent willows produce
sprouts prolifically immediately after fire. The sprouting ability of
willows is apparently more vigorous and prolific than that of birches
(Betula spp.) or alders (Alnus spp.) .
Alaska willow's abundant, wind-dispersed seed is important in colonizing
burned areas. Seed is dispersed in the summer and remains viable for
only about 1 week; thus the season of a fire often determines if Alaska
willow can establish during the first or subsequent postfire years
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by wind; postfire years 1 and 2
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Alaska willow is sometimes present as scattered individuals in white or
black spruce (Picea mariana) forests. Severe fires in these vegetation
types can kill willows by completely removing soil organic layers and
charring the roots . Less severe fires only top-kill plants.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Alaska willow sprouts from the root crown following most fires. Sprouts
develop more rapidly than seedlings and probably reach heights over 20
inches (50 cm) after the first growing season .
Alaska willow was common on 11- to 19-year-old burns in bottomland black
and white spruce sites in interior Alaska . One 11-year-old burn
had about 4,700 Alaska, grayleaf, and tealeaf willow stems per acre
(11,600 /ha) with lesser amounts of spruce and poplar. Alaska willow's
density probably increases or remains constant for up to 30 years after
a forest fire, but thereafter declines as young trees overtop it
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
Fire severity affects the mode of Alaska willow postfire recovery.
Following light fires most willows recover quickly, sending up new
shoots from undamaged root crowns. Few if any seedlings establish
following this type of burn because organic soil layers are only
partially consumed and prevent seedling establishment. Following severe
fires, however, the primary mode of recovery is seedling establishment.
Severe fires that burn deep into organic soils kill willows but expose
mineral soils, which provide excellent seedbeds.
Following experimental burning on black spruce/feather moss sites in
interior Alaska, artificially sown Alaska willow seeds germinated only
on plots where fire removed all of the organic matter . On these
plots, 181 seedlings (out of 400 germinants) survived three growing
seasons, but no seedlings were found on plots where burning only
partially removed organic soil layers.
For information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of many plant
species, including Alaska willow, see these Research Project Summaries:
SPECIES: Salix alaxensis
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