Swamp willow, also called “black willow” or “Southwestern willow,” is the largest of all North American willow species. Swamp willow is identifiable for its tall, slender shoots that vary in color from yellow to brown and purple. The shoots ultimately produce beautiful red-brown buds, which gives them an even more stunning look.
Swamp willow is a hardy species that is native to the eastern seaboard of North America. It is robust and adaptable, and today it grows wild all the way from New Brunswick and Ontario in Canada down to Florida and even parts of Texas. This species does best in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. Swamp willow thrives in areas with partial sunlight and moist soil. The leaves are identifiable by their rounded, broad bases and their fine-toothed edges. If you look closely, you may also see fine hairs along the surface of the swamp willow's leaves. When the buds emerge, they are narrow and cone-shaped. The bark appears as a dark-gray or brown color. At times, the bark is closer to black, which explains the tree's alternate name of “black willow.” The swamp willow has a deep root system, which makes it a top choice in areas that are prone to flooding and erosion.
The swamp willow has been a fixture of the American landscape for many years. Height-wise, the most massive swamp willow tree on record, which is 63 feet tall, lives in Minnesota. The most extensive tree, which is nearly 20 feet in circumference, resides in Marlboro Township, New Jersey.
Today, this species is widespread in private and commercial landscapes for its attractive appearance and its hardiness. But historically, it has also been quite valuable for its medicinal and healing properties. Since the days of ancient Greece, the bark of the willow trees has been used to make tea with anti-inflammatory properties. By the 1840s, chemists were using extracts from the tree's bark to create pain-relieving medications.
If swamp willows are well-cared for, they will live to be about 65 years old. In the wild, their lifespan ranges from 40-100 years. The tree's wood is light to moderate in density. It is used for a variety of commercial products including toys, barrels, crates, and wood floors