Salix cinerea
Salix cinerea Habitus in spring Germany.jpg
Salix cinerea subsp. cinerea, Germany
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Salicaceae
Genus: Salix
S. cinerea
Binomial name
Salix cinerea
Salix cinerea map.png
Green: Salix cinerea subsp. cinerea

Orange: Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia

Salix cinerea (common sallow, grey sallow, grey willow, grey-leaved sallow, large grey willow, pussy willow, rusty sallow[1]) is a species of willow native to Europe and western Asia.[2][3]

The plant provides a great deal of nectar for pollinators. It was rated in the top 10, with a ranking of second place, for most nectar production (nectar per unit cover per year) in a UK plants survey conducted by the AgriLand project which is supported by the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative.[4]


Close-ups of Salicaceae flowers

It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing 4–15 metres (13–50 ft) tall. The leaves are spirally arranged, 2–9 cm (1–3+12 in) long and 1–3 cm (121+12 in) broad (exceptionally up to 16 cm long and 5 cm broad), green above, hairy below, with a crenate margin. The flowers are produced in early spring in catkins 2–5 cm long; it is dioecious with male and female catkins on separate plants. The male catkins are silvery at first, turning yellow when the pollen is released; the female catkins are greenish grey, maturing in early summer to release the numerous tiny seeds embedded in white cottony down which assists wind dispersal.[2][3]

The two subspecies are:[2][3]

  • S. c. cinerea - central and eastern Europe, western Asia, shrub to 4–6 m (rarely 10 m) tall, with smooth bark, leaves densely hairy below with pale yellow-grey hairs, stipules large, persistent until autumn
  • S. c. oleifolia (Sm.) Macreight (syn. S. atrocinerea Brot.) - western Europe, northwest Africa, shrub or tree to 10–15 m tall, with furrowed bark, leaves thinly hairy below with dark red-brown hairs, stipules small, early deciduous

Some overlap in the distributions (not indicated in the map, right) occurs, with both occurring in a broad band north to south through France, and scattered specimens of S. c. cinerea west to Ireland, western France, and Morocco; scattered specimens of S. c. oleifolia occur east to the Netherlands. Specimens of S. c. oleifolia in southern Scandinavia are planted or naturalised, not native. Intermediate specimens also occur.[2][3]


Salix cinerea seeds on a birch tree branch

It usually grows in wetlands. The two subspecies differ slightly in requirements, with S. c. cinerea generally restricted to basic marshland and fen habitats, while S. c. oleifolia is less demanding, occurring in both alkaline marshes and acidic bogs and streamsides.[2] A common herbivore of Salix cinerea is Phratora vulgatissima, which prefers and is more common on female plants.[5]Anthocoris nemorum, a natural enemy of Phratora vulgatissima, is also more common on S. cinerea.[5]

Invasive species

Salix cinerea is an invasive species in New Zealand and is listed on the National Pest Plant Accord, which means it cannot be sold or distributed. S. cinerea is also highly invasive in south-eastern Australia,[6] with the entire genus listed as a Weed of National Significance. The species was introduced to stop erosion along riverbanks, but has since caused worse erosion over time by widening and shallowing invaded streams.


  1. ^ "Queensland Government Fact Sheet". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Meikle, R. D. (1984). Willows and Poplars of Great Britain and Ireland. BSBI Handbook No. 4. ISBN 0-901158-07-0.
  3. ^ a b c d Christensen, K. I., & Nielsen, H. (1992). Rust-pil (Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia) - en overset pil i Danmark og Skandinavien. Dansk Dendrologisk Årsskrift 10: 5-17.
  4. ^ "Which flowers are the best source of nectar?". Conservation Grade. 2014-10-15. Retrieved 2017-10-18.[dead link]
  5. ^ a b Kabir, Faisal MD; Moritz, Kim K; Stenberg, Johan A. (2015-04-19). "Plant-sex-biased tritrophic interactions on dioecious willow". Ecosphere. 5 (12): art153. doi:10.1890/ES14-00356.1.
  6. ^ Cremer, K. W. (2003) Introduced willows can become invasive pests in Australia. Biodiversity, 4, 17-24.