Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Salix nigra
SPECIES: Salix nigra
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Tesky, Julie L. 1992. Salix nigra. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
southwestern black willow
Gulf black willow
The currently accepted scientific name of black willow is Salix nigra
Marsh. [11,12,22,26,31]. Recognized varieties are S. nigra var. nigra
Marsh., S. nigra var. altissima Sarg., S. nigra var. falcata (Pursh.)
Torr., and S. nigra var. lindheimeri [20,22,26].
Salix nigra, S. gooddingii Ball, and S. amygdaloides Anderss. are
closely related taxa commonly referred to as the black willows .
The three species are not easily distinguished morphologically, and in
fact, some authorities consider S. gooddingii to be S. nigra var.
vallicola Dudley or S. n. var. venulosa (Anderss.) Bebb. [5,8,36]. S.
amygdaloides is sometimes considered to be S. nigra var. amygdaloides
Anderss. . For our purposes, however, these varieties will be
considered as separate species. S. nigra hybridizes with S.
amygdaloides (S. X glatfelteri Schneider); S. alba (S. X hankensonii
Dode); and S. lucida (S. X schneider Boivin) [5,20,38].
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Salix nigra
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Black willow is found throughout the eastern United States, adjacent
parts of Canada, and Mexico. Its range extends west from southern New
Brunswick and central Maine to Quebec, southern Ontario, central
Michigan, southeastern Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota. It occurs
south and west to the Rio Grande just below its confluence with the
Pecos River; and east along the Gulf Coast through the Florida Panhandle
and southern Georgia [5,8,11]. Black willow has been introduced in Utah
where it is now common along many streambottoms .
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
AL AR CT DE FL GA IL IN IA KS
KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO NE
NH NJ NY NC ND OH OK PA RI SC
TN TX UT VT VA WV WI MB NB ON
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
6 Upper Basin and Range
12 Colorado Plateau
14 Great Plains
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K091 Cypress savanna
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
61 River birch - sycamore
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
95 Black willow
102 Baldcypress - tupelo
103 Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
235 Cottonwood - willow
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Black willow occurs as a codominant in some early seral floodplain
communities [24,30]. It codominates with sandbar willow (Salix exigua)
on floodplains having the greatest water depths and the longest
hydroperiods of any of the shallow freshwater swamps of the southern
United States . Black willow also codominates with eastern
cottonwood (Populus deltoides) in the lower Mississippi Valley .
Published classifications listing black willow as a codominant in
community types (cts) are listed below:
Area Classification Authority
S. U.S. southern swamp & Penfound 1952
AR,MS: Lower cts Shelford 1954
SPECIES: Salix nigra
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Black willow is the largest and only commercially important willow in
North America. The wood is light, usually straight grained, and
moderately high in shock resistance. It stains and finishes well but is
relatively unendurable . The wood was once used extensively for
artificial limbs because it is lightweight, does not splinter easily, and
holds its shape well [5,8]. It is still used for making boxes and
crates, furniture core stock, turned pieces, table tops, wooden
novelties, doors, cabinets, polo balls, and toys [5,8,15]. Black willow
is also used for pulp [5,8].
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Birds eat the buds and flowering catkins of black willow; deer eat the
twigs and leaves; and rodents eat the bark and buds [8,35]. The
yellow-bellied sapsucker feeds on the sap [5,39]. Black willow is
somewhat tolerant of grazing and browsing . Black willow/cottonwood
stands are also commonly used as nesting habitat by some small nongame
bird species .
Palatability of black willow has been rated as fair for livestock and
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Black willow has been rated as fair in energy value and poor in protein
COVER VALUE :
Black willow cover values in Utah are rated as follows :
pronghorn - poor
elk - poor
moose - fair
small mammals - fair
small nongame birds - good
upland game birds - good
waterfowl - fair
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Black willow was commonly used in soil stabilization projects in early
efforts at erosion control. Its flood tolerance and the ease with which
it establishes from cuttings continue to make it an excellent species
for reducing erosion of streambanks, bars, and islands [5,8,18,39].
Post-sized willow cuttings have been rooted for use in flood projects to
prevent gullies from forming .
Seeds lose viability rapidly if stored at room temperature.
Refrigerated storage of moistened seeds for no longer than 1 month is
recommended. Commercial seed is not usually available . Planted
seedlings or cuttings should be protected from livestock, beavers, small
rodents, and rabbits. Hardware cloth placed around individual plants
will protect them from rodents and rabbits. Livestock should be
excluded by fencing the entire area, and firebreaks should surround the
revegetated area. Additionally, the area around each tree should be
kept free of weeds . To reduce competition densities greater than
494 to 556 trees per acre (200-225 trees/ha) should be avoided .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Ancient pharmacopoeia recognized the bark and leaves of willow as useful
in the treatment of rheumatism . Pioneering settlers boiled the bark
of black willow for its purgative and vermin-destroying powers . In
1829, the natural glucoside, salicin, which is closely related
chemically to aspirin, was isolated from willow . Black willow was
once used as a source of charcoal for gunpowder .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Thinning: To increase yields and reduce mortality of black willow,
stands should be thinned as soon as economically feasible; thinning
should continue at 5-year intervals [5,28]. Spacing between trees after
thinning should average about 21 times the mean stem diameter of 10
inches (25.4 cm). This results in a 17.5 feet (5.3 m) spacing .
Insects and Disease: The forest tent caterpillar (malacosoma disstria),
the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), the cottonwood leaf beetle
(Chrysomila scripta), the willow sawfly (Nematus ventralis), and the
willow leaf beetle (Plagiodera versicolora) partially or occasionally
completely defoliate willow trees, reducing growth but seldom causing
death. The cottonwood borer (Plectrodera scalator) attacks black willow
and may kill by girdling the base. Top and branch rot account for 86
percent of the cull in willow. Leaf rust, fungus scab, and black canker
can cause leaf and shoot destruction of black willow seedlings [5,39].
Because of its weak wood and shallow roots, black willow is susceptible
to breakage and windthrow .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Salix nigra
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Black willow is a small (sometimes shrublike) to large, short-lived,
deciduous tree [3,5,8,27,29]. It is fast growing and may reach maturity
within 30 years [8,17]. This tree usually obtains a height of 66 feet
(20 m) but can grow up to 138 feet (42 m) on some sites . The
massive trunks are usually leaning and are often divided. The bark is
thick and deeply divided into furrows separating thick, scaly ridges.
The crown is broad and open with stout branches . Twigs are slender
and easily detached . Leaf blades are variable in size, the larger
to 4.7 inches (12 cm) long. Black willow roots are shallow and
laterally extensive [5,39].
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Sexual reproduction: Black willows start producing seed when they are
about 10 years old [4,5]. Optimum seed-bearing age is from 25 to 75
years. The trees have good seed crops almost every year. producing an
average of 2.3 million seeds per pound (5 million/kg). Seeds ripen 45
to 60 days after catkins are pollinated by insects or wind. As the
seeds fall, the long silky hairs act as wings to carry the seeds long
distances. The seeds are also disseminated by water .
Seeds are not dormant. Viability is greatly reduced by only a few days
of dry conditions. Germination is epigeal, and germination capacity is
usually high. Very moist bare mineral soil is best for germination and
early development [5,14,28]. Once seedlings are established, full light
promotes vigorous growth. Seedlings grow rapidly in a favorable
environment, often exceeding 4 feet (1.2 m) in the first year. Low
ground cover competition and shade, however, greatly hampers growth
Vegetative reproduction: Root stocks of very young black willow trees
sprout prolifically. Propagation by cutting is the usual method of
artifical regeneration [5,39].
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Black willow is most common on river margins where it occupies the
lower, wetter, and often less sandy sites. It is also common in swamps,
sloughs, swales, gullies, and drainage ditches, growing anywhere light
and moisture conditions are favorable . It flourishes at or slightly
below water level and is not appreciably damaged by flooding and silting
[5,16]. On a flooded site in southern Illinois, black willow survived
32 or more days of complete inundation . Black willow, however, is
not drought tolerant. Whole stands may die out when water tables lower
and soil dries up .
Soils: Black willow grows on a variety of soils but develops best in
fine silt or clay in relatively stagnant water. It thrives in saturated
or poorly drained soil from which other hardwoods are excluded [6,24].
Black willow is commonly found in moderately acidic (lower pH limit is
4.5) to near neutral soils .
Climate: Black willow grows best in climates characterized by an
average annual rainfall of 51 inches (130 cm), with approximately 20
inches (51 cm) falling from April through August. The average maximum
temperature across its range is 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 deg C) in the
summer and 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 deg C) in the winter .
Plant associates: Black willow is commonly associated with the
following species: eastern cottonwood, red maple (Acer rubrum), black
spruce (Picea mariana), river birch (Betula nigra), American sycamore
(Platanus occidentalis), boxelder (Acer negundo), red mulberry (Morus
rubra), swamp privet (Forestiera acuminata), buttonbush (Cephalanthus
occidentalis), water elm (Planera aquatica), and American elm (Ulmus
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Black willow is a pioneer or early seral species commonly found along
the edges of rivers and streams, mud flats, and floodplains. This tree
is very shade intolerant and usually grows in dense, even-aged stands.
Black willow stands periodically stagnate and are eventually replaced by
more shade-tolerant trees such as American elm, sycamore (Platanus
spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), boxelder, and sweet gum (Liquidambar
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Black willow flowering begins in February in the southern portion of its
range and extends through late June at the northern limits. The catkins
usually appear at the time of or immediately preceding leaf emergence
[5,39]. Seeds ripen and fall in April to July .
SPECIES: Salix nigra
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Black willow has the ability to sprout from the base following fire
. Its wind- and water-dispersed seeds are also important in
revegetating areas following fire. Fires are rare in the bottomland
areas where black willow typically occurs .
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
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
SPECIES: Salix nigra
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Although black willow does exhibit some fire adaptations, it is very
susceptible to fire damage and will typically decrease following fire
. High-severity fires can kill entire stands of black willow.
Low-severity fires can scorch the bark and seriously wound trees,
leaving them more susceptible to insects and disease [5,37]. Surface
fires will also destroy young seedlings and saplings [5,24,37].
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Black willow will sprout from the base following fire [5,37]. Fires
that expose bare mineral soil may create a favorable seedbed for black
willow establishment. However, because seed viability is greatly
reduced by dry conditions , seedling establishment on burned sites
depends on the season of the burn, amount of moisture available, and
amount of exposed mineral soil.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
Following a spring fast-moving head fire in a palm (Sabal spp.) grove in
south Texas, all black willow trees up to 13 feet (4 m) tall were
scorched badly and had few green leaves. Three months after the fire
all aboveground portions of black willow trees had died, but almost all
sprouted from the base. Following a low to moderate-severity Oklahoma
grassland summer fire, black willow density decreased. Preburn density
was 169 stems per acre (417 stems/ha); a year following the burn density
was only 51 stems per acre (125 stems/ha) .
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Burning has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining tallgrass
prairies by inhibiting the invasion of black willow and other woody
SPECIES: Salix nigra
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