Salix phlebophylla : Skeleton Willow


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Dicoteldonae (two seed-leaves)

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

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

Species: phlebophylla

English Name(s):

Skeleton Willow,

First Nation Names:



  • Small matforming, decumbent, shrub.
  • Stems thick arrising from a taprooted caudex (base).
  • Branches reddish brown, glossy, glabrous (not hairy).
  • Branchlets glabrous, nonglaucous (Blueish waxy).


  • Alternate.
  • Buds of all salix spp. (Willows) are covered by a single scale.
  • Firm and leathery.
  • Narrowly obovate to broadly obovate or elliptic in shape.
  • Rarely more than 1cm long, cuneate (tapering) to base.
  • Upper surface glossy, lower surface with long straight caducous (quickly falling) trichomes (hairlike outgrowths).
  • Margins entire (smooth).
  • Leaves are marcescent (dried attached) on twigs for many years, eventually becoming skeletonized.

Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers lacking a parianth(sepals + petals). Born in cylindrical catkins.
  • Plants dioecious (uni-sexual).
  • Catkins appearing with the leaves.
  • Pistilate (female) catkins 1.5-2.5cm long.
  • Pedicels (stalks) very short.
  • Bracts dark brown to black, with long white hairs.
  • Styles short and thick.
  • Nectaries shorter than or equal to stipes (stalks).


  • Fruit a dehiscent (splitting open) capsule containing numerous small seeds.
  • Seed capsules dark purpleish black, thinly pubescent (hairy) with refractive hairs or occasionally pubescnet on beak or glabrous (not hairy).

Not to Be Confused With:

  • Many of the erect shrub Salix (Willow) species can be hard to distinguish from each other. Useing the Keys and especially the Character Chart Key on the Salicaceae (Willow Family) Page should help.
  • Salix rotundifolia (Round-leaved Willow) whos leaves are rounder and whos marcescent (withered leaves) not becoming skeletonized.



  • 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:

  • Catkins deciduous.
  • Leaves dieing after one season but are marcenscent (not falling) for many years eventually becoming skeletonized.
  • 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.


  • Gravelly alpine tundra ridges.






      Traditional Gwich'in:





              Traditional Other:






                      Illustration from: USDA-PLANTS database

                      Range Maps

                      World Range: Amphi-berengian, arctic alpine.

                      Prov/State Abrev. List

                      In Yukon: In the Ogilvie, Richardson and British Mountains

                      To Top Of Page