Crack Willow identification

The Crack Willow Salix fragilis is native to Europe (including Britain) and western Asia. It is particularly common along rivers. It was often cut at a height of 2 to 4 m, in an ancient practice called pollarding, to provide stakes for wattle fencing. The trees are now pollarded to stop branches falling into and blocking the river. The tree spreads along rivers naturally. Side twigs, if bent, will snap off cleanly with a crack, hence the name. Other Willows do not do this. If a twig snaps off, floats down the river and lodges in mud, it will root and grow. Crack Willow identification is based on its long thin leaves, spring catkins and ridged bark.

Willows are pollinated by insects (Poplars are wind pollinated). Willows have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another tree. Technically they are called ‘dioecious’ from the Greek meaning ‘2 households’. The flowers are in the form of catkins. Female and male catkins look different. Male catkins have anthers that carry bright yellow pollen. At the base of each flower is a pot of nectar. Insects, usually early bees, collect the nectar (to make honey) and, as they do so, get coated in pollen, which they then transfer to the female flower when they go to its nectar pot. Female catkins are greener, stay on the tree longer and eventually release seeds. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Crack Willow tree

Pollarded Crack Willow by a river in September

Crack Willow leaf

The leaf is long, thin and toothed

Crack Willow twig

Side twigs snap off cleanly with a sharp crack. No other willow does this

Crack Willow male catkin

Male catkin showing yellow pollen in early April.

Crack Willow female catkin

Female catkin at the beginning of April

Crack Willow bark

The bark has criss-crossed ridges

Pollarded Crack Willows by a river in March

Lateral buds are pressed closely to the shoot

Buds are brown and not pointed. There is no true terminal bud.