Category Archives: Medicinal Plants

Grey Willow – Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia Tree Identification

Grey Willow Leaves

Grey Willow – Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia


Grey Willow is often confused with goat willow, as they are very similar. They often hybridise through cross pollination.

Grey Willow and other broader-leafed species of willow (including goat willow) are frequently referred to as “Sallows”. Goat willow is known as “Great Sallow” and Grey Willow as “Common Sallow”. Both these species are sometimes called “Pussy Willow” due to the silky grey female flowers, which resemble a cat’s paws, giving them the name “Catkins”.

Download our worksheet and look at the examples we give to help learn about tree, identifying trees and uses in bushcraft.

Family: Salicaceae

Native to U.K.


Visual Identification of Grey Willow.

Grey Willow Shoot

Grey Willow Shoot

Mature trees can grow up to 10 meters, but is also seen growing as a shrub along ditches and waterways. The bark is grey-brown and with age develops diamond-shaped fissures.

New growth/twigs are hairy but become smooth quite quickly become smooth, in sunlight they can appear red-yellow.

Grey Willow can be identified during winter when red hairless narrow buds which are pressed close to the twig are developed.


Grey Willow Leaves

Grey Willow Leaves

The leaves of the Grey Willow differ from most other willows as the leaves are oval rather than long and thin. The discerning feature when comparing Grey Willow with Goat Willow is the leaves of Goat Willow are at least twice as long as they are wide.

New Leaves have a fine silver felt underneath with rusty hairs beneath the veins, as the leaves become older, the furry felt diminishes slightly. There are fine hairs on the upper side of the new leaves but this quickly disappears.



Grey Willow catkin

Grey Willow catkin

Grey Willow is dioecious. This means that male and female flowers grow on separate trees. They are known as Catkins due to their appearance and are seen in early spring. Male catkins are grey, stout and oval. They become yellow when ripe with pollen. Female catkins are longer and green in colour.

Fruits: Grey Willow is pollinated by wind after the female catkins produce woolly seeds

. However, most Willows are capable of self-propagating. Low branches coming into contact with the ground can develop their own root system and become independent trees


As mentioned earlier Grey Willow can be confused with several native willow species in the UK and many frequently hybridise with one another. This can cause confusion, making them hard to identify.


Uses of Grey Willow and Value to Wildlife

Grey willow foliage is food for various caterpillars and a number of moths/butterfly. These include

  • The Sallow Kitten,
  • Sallow Clearwing,
  • Dusky Clearwing,
  • Lunar Hornet Clearwing,
  • Purple Emperor Butterfly.


Catkins provide an important early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects

Due to producing food for these caterpillars etc. it means birds use Grey Willow to forage for caterpillars and other insects.

Traditionally willows were used to relieve pain. The painkiller Aspirin Acetyl Salicylic Acid is derived from Salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species.

The Willow family has numerous practical uses. These include,

  • Making Cordage
  • Medicine
  • Weaving, baskets and fish traps,
  • Carving
  • Fire bows and drills
  • Firemaking


Grey willow trees are susceptible to watermark disease.[/fusion_text]