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Bay Willow

Salix pentandra

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Salicaceae (Willow)
Deciduous tree
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
15 metres tall
Fens, gardens, marshes, roadsides, sand dunes, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Yellow, no petals
The male catkins are yellow, up to 5cm in length. The female catkins are greenish and up to 3cm long. The scientific name of this tree is taken from the fact that the male catkins have 5 stamens (pentandra). This is the only willow in Britain with 5 stamens (rarely more). Pollinated by bees.
The fruit of this tree is a small, short-stalked capsule, covered in white down. It contains numerous seeds which ripen in June.
Glossy, dark green leaves with finely serrated margins, up to 12cm long and 5cm broad. The leaves are paler beneath and sticky when young. Its leaves are said to look like those of the Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) after which it is named.
The young leaves and catkins smell slightly akin to balsam.
Other Names:
Bay-leaved Willow, Laurel Willow, Laurel-leaved Willow, Sweet Willow, Willow Bay.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Salix pentandra, also known as Bay Willow or Laurel-leaved Willow, is a species of willow tree that is native to Europe, Asia and North America. It is a medium-sized tree that can grow up to 15 meters tall. The tree is known for its glossy green leaves that are somewhat larger than other willow species, and its yellowish-brown bark. The bark of the tree contains salicin, which is used in the production of aspirin. Bay willow is also used in traditional medicine for various ailments, including fever, pain, and inflammation. It is also a popular ornamental tree, grown for its attractive leaves and bark. It is also used for erosion control, for its ability to stabilise banks and slopes and for wildlife habitat.


Bay Willow (Salix pentandra), also known as Basket Willow or Bay-leaved Willow, is a species of willow that is commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow up to 20 meters tall and is commonly found along river banks, streams, and marshes.

The Bay Willow is known for its distinctive, shiny leaves that are a dark green color and have a distinctive, glossy appearance. The leaves are broad and oval in shape, and they have a slightly serrated edge. They are typically about 8-10 cm long and 4-6 cm wide. The leaves are also known for their strong, sweet fragrance, which is often used in aromatherapy and perfumes.

In the spring, the Bay Willow produces small, yellowish-green catkins that are both male and female. These catkins are followed by small, round capsules that contain the seeds of the tree. The seeds are wind-dispersed, allowing the Bay Willow to colonize new areas and thrive in its wetland habitat.

One of the most interesting features of the Bay Willow is its use in basketry. The flexible, pliable branches of the tree have been used for centuries to weave baskets, fish traps, and other types of woven objects. The branches are harvested in the spring and are then peeled, dried, and woven into a variety of different basket styles. The baskets made from Bay Willow are durable, long-lasting, and prized for their beauty and natural elegance.

The Bay Willow is also an important species for wildlife. Its dense, leafy canopy provides shelter and nesting sites for many species of birds, including the Marsh Tit and the Willow Warbler. Additionally, the leaves and branches of the tree are a source of food for deer, rabbits, and other herbivores.

Overall, the Bay Willow is a versatile and important species that plays a crucial role in its wetland habitats. Its beauty, versatility, and ecological importance make it a valuable and fascinating tree, and a must-see for anyone interested in the natural world.

In addition to its traditional use in basketry and its importance to wildlife, the Bay Willow has also been used for a variety of other purposes throughout history. For example, it has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, with the leaves and bark being used to treat a variety of ailments, including fevers, wounds, and skin irritations.

The wood of the Bay Willow is also highly valued for its strength and flexibility, making it a popular choice for tool handles, furniture frames, and other wood products. In some cultures, the Bay Willow is also used in spiritual and religious rituals, with its branches being used to make wands and other ritual objects.

In modern times, the Bay Willow continues to be an important species for a variety of purposes. It is widely cultivated for its ornamental value, with many cultivars available that have been selected for their distinctive foliage and bark color, as well as their overall shape and form. It is also used in landscaping and erosion control projects, where its dense, extensive root system helps to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.

Despite its many benefits, the Bay Willow is still threatened by a variety of environmental factors, including habitat loss, deforestation, and the spread of invasive species. Conservation efforts are underway to help protect and preserve this valuable species, including reforestation and wetland restoration projects, as well as the promotion of sustainable harvesting practices for basketry and other uses.

The Bay Willow is a unique and fascinating species with a rich history and many important uses. Whether you are interested in its use in basketry, its importance to wildlife, or its role in the natural world, it is a tree worth learning about and appreciating.

It is also worth mentioning that the Bay Willow is a fast-growing species, making it an ideal choice for quick landscaping and erosion control projects. Its growth rate allows it to quickly establish a strong root system, which helps to prevent soil erosion and provide stability to the surrounding area.

Another important aspect of the Bay Willow is its ability to grow in a variety of different soil types and moisture levels. It can be found growing in soils that range from sandy to clay, and it is well-suited to wetland and floodplain habitats, as well as river banks and stream sides. This makes it an ideal choice for landscaping projects in areas that are prone to flooding or that have poor soil quality.

The Bay Willow is also a relatively low-maintenance species, making it an ideal choice for home gardeners and landscapers who are looking for an attractive, easy-to-grow tree. It does not require much pruning or other maintenance, and it is generally free from pests and diseases.

One final note about the Bay Willow is that it is a good choice for wildlife habitat enhancement. Its dense, leafy canopy provides excellent cover for a variety of wildlife species, and its seeds and leaves are an important food source for many animals. If you are interested in enhancing the wildlife habitat in your area, consider planting a Bay Willow or two to provide food and shelter for your local wildlife.

The Bay Willow is a versatile and valuable species with a wide range of uses and benefits. Whether you are a basket maker, landscaper, wildlife enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty and diversity of nature, the Bay Willow is a tree that is well worth exploring.

Additionally, it is important to note that the Bay Willow is also a key species in the maintenance of healthy wetland ecosystems. Wetlands play a vital role in the natural world, providing important habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, as well as filtering pollutants from the water and improving water quality. The Bay Willow is an important component of many wetland ecosystems, providing shade and shelter for other species and helping to maintain the overall health and stability of these important habitats.

Furthermore, the Bay Willow is a valuable resource for carbon sequestration, which is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil or vegetation. Trees, such as the Bay Willow, absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and store it in their leaves, branches, and roots. This helps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Another important factor to consider is the cultural significance of the Bay Willow. In many indigenous cultures, the Bay Willow holds a special place in traditional stories and legends, and its use in basketry, tools, and other objects has been passed down through generations. Maintaining a connection to the cultural heritage of our ancestors is important for preserving our collective history and identity, and species like the Bay Willow play an important role in that connection.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning the potential of the Bay Willow for sustainable forestry and basketry practices. With proper management, the Bay Willow can provide a sustainable source of materials for basket making, while also supporting the conservation of wetland habitats and the biodiversity that depends on these ecosystems.

In conclusion, the Bay Willow is a multi-faceted and valuable species with a wide range of benefits to the environment, the economy, and society. Whether you are a naturalist, basket maker, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, the Bay Willow is a species worth appreciating and preserving for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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