Salix arctica : Arctic Willow


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Dicoteldonae (two seed-leaves)

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Genera: Salix (Willows) (Classic Latin name for willow)

Species: arctica (Gk arktikos from the constelation Bear or Northern)

Synonym(s): S.anglorum, S.crassijulis, S.hudsonensis

English Name(s):

Arctic Willow,

First Nation Names:



  • Branches thick, trailing sometimes ascending, glabrous (hairless).
  • Dwarf, often matted but never erect shrub.


  • Alternate.
  • Petioled (on a stalk).
  • Buds of all salix spp. are covered by a single scale.
  • 2.5-7cm long by 1.5-2.5cm wide. Petiole (stalk) 9-15mm long or about 1/3 the length of the blade.
  • Stipules (leafy appendages) usually absent, if present up to 10mm long.
  • Margins entire (smooth). Upper surface dull green. Lower surface slightly glaucous (grayish) with long pubescence (hiars).
  • Shape, variable, elliptic-obovate to broadly ovate.

Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers lacking a parianth(sepals + petals). Born in cylindrical catkins.
  • Plants dioecious (uni-sexual).
  • Catkins on leafy peduncles (stalks).
  • Female catkins 3-7cm long ovaries permanently short-pubescent (short-hairs). Nectaries 0.4-1.8mm long, usually much longer than the stipes (ovary stalk).
  • Male catkins 2.5-5cm long.


  • Fruit a dehiscent (splitting open) capsule containing numerous small seeds.
  • Capsules permantently short-pubescent (short-hairs), 5.6-10mm long, reddish or tawny in colour.

Not to Be Confused With:

  • Salix polar looks similar but its female catkins tend to be shorter with fewer flowers or capsules. As well it leaves are dark-green on both sides with little to no hairs.
  • Salix phlebophylla looks similar also but its branches are covered in persistent (not falling off) often skeletonized leaves. Also its nectaries are usually shorter than the stipes (ovary stalks)



  • Are insect pollenated. Both male and female flowers have nectaries to attract pollenating insects. Male pollen is also brightly coloured red or yellow to attract insects.
  • Several types of galls can be seen on willows. These are deformations of plant tissue caused by the physical actions or chemical secretions of insects.
  • Willow Roses are a type of gall that grows on some species of willow. It is caused by the larvae of Cecidomyia rosaria. The larvae through chemical secretions cause the leaves of the bud to grow in a rose petal like fashion.

Life Cycle:

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Leaves and catkins deciduous.
  • Catkins appearing with the leaves.


Animal Uses:

  • In spring and early summer the catkins and young leaves are eagerly eaten by many mammals and birds.
  • Moose, caribou and deer all eat the twigs and young branches.
  • The twigs and bark are eaten by hares and lemmings.
  • Willow is an important food for bears and a secondary food for beavers.
  • Willow is an important food for many animals.
  • Winter buds are one of the principle winter foods of ptarmigan and grouse.


  • In a variety of alpine or tundra sites from sedge meadows, to dry sandy sites and heath lands.
  • The most northerly of Salix (Willow) species.






      Traditional Gwich'in:





              Traditional Other:






                      Male catkins; Old, pollen dispersed.

                      Fruiting (female) catkins.

                      Old twisted shrub.

                      Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

                      Range Maps

                      World Range: Circumpolar; Arctic-alpine; In N.A. from Northern Greenland and Arctic archepelago to AK, south to Gaspe QC

                      Prov/State Abrev. List

                      In Yukon: Frequent throughout most of the territory.

                      To Top Of Page