A Gardening Journal

Yezo Dwarf Willow

salix-yezoalpina-042211-640

 

This is its first Spring old enough to pussy.  The pussy opens from the bottom up, with the white-silk top still pubescent.  The just-opened pistils are those higher up, with fresh terra-cotta pollen that ages to yellow-green.

 

How about those white-wispy leaves, which unfurl to surprisingly a large and un-willow-like width  Their veins are slightly depressed below the flesh, creating a leathery texture.   

 

Below, the actual "size" of my youngster:  My mud-caked index fingers loom like dirigibles.

 

 

salix-yezoalpina-fingers-64

 

Yezo Dwarf is the most intriguing of the prostrate willows.  Not least because it is so diligently prostrate: Although each plant gets thickly-trunked and -limbed with age, like the true tree it is, it never gets more than a foot or two tall at the most.  Instead of putting all that wood into height, it goes for flow:  Coursing down the crevasses between rocks, and then cascading down the cliffs with stiff-limbed closeness.

 

It's quite a combination of agoraphobia—trickling first in the crevasses, and only when they're "full" out onto the exposed surfaces—followed by some daredevil slaloming right over the precipice.

 

If only my property—as flat as Flanders—had more than an inch or two of slope to slalom. 

 

Instead, my Yezo is planted in a trough, which I hope to raise higher as the willow cascades farther and farther.  Old Yezos can be ten feet across and more, so just how the trough will be raised up and then up some more is still a matter of inspiration.

 

Meanwhile, the pussies and the leaves are held atop the branches, as if keeping dry just an inch above the flow, and staying safe from crashing into the rocks below by being securely fastened to the cascading limbs beneath them.  Indeed, what wouldn't you do to keep that terra-cotta pollen proudly and stylishly on display?

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this cascading willow:

 

Latin Name

Salix nakamura var. yezo-alpina

Common Name

Yezo Dwarf willow

Family

Salicaceae, the willow family.

What kind of plant is it?

Prostrate deciduous dwarf tree

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 8

Habit

Wide-spreading but never more than a foot or two tall, with stiff and, in time, thick branches that seem to hug the terrain.

Rate of Growth

Fast after becoming established.

Size in ten years

About a foot tall and ten feet wide.  Stems root where they touch ground, so the spread can be indefinitely wider in time.

Texture

The branches are rigid and seem to clasp the underlying rocks with muscular certainty.  The wide leaves can grow thickly enough to create groundcover.  The large vertical catkins—a couple of inches tall on more mature individuals—are prominently displayed like so many candles atop the cascading canopy of foliage and branch.

Grown for

Striking geometry of the cascading branches, the unusually wide leaves (which have excellent yellow Fall color), and the very showy display of the large vertical pussies.

Flowering season

Early Spring; April here in Southern New England.

Culture

Full sun when possible; accepts part shade but pussies less.  Its native haunt is steep rocky slopes, not the wet ground that most willows normally revel in, so it requires good drainage.

How to handle it

If you can, plant it in a setting reminiscent of its mountain home: In a crevasse between large boulders.  Or at the top of a retaining wall, or in a Winter-proof planter.  Anything to give it some height from which to cascade.  (I have yet to see or even hear of a Yezo that was staked up, to achieve its own elevation from which to cascade.  But I'd love to try it.)  Let it creep along at will, giving as much room to it as you can spare.  It accepts pruning readily. 

Downsides

Can be killed with the kindness of too good soil or too much water.  Best in a leaner locale, exposed to Winter's full blast and Summer's hot sun.

Variants

None

Availability

Specialty nurseries and on-line

Propagation

Cuttings, or, in very early Spring, sever and transplant a portion of prostrate stem that had already rooted into the ground.

Native habitat

Alpine mountains of Hokkaido, Japan

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