Salix interior (Sandbar Willow)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Salicaceae (Willow)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; moist to wet; shores, river banks, swamps, marshes, swales, wet fields, wet ditches, dunes
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:6 to 22 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of male catkins] Male and female flowers are on separate plants (dioecious) in spike-like clusters (catkins) at the tips of short branchlets along 1 year old branches, emerging with the leaves; flowering from lateral buds continues for several more weeks. Male catkins are ¾ to 2½ inches long, the flowers densely to somewhat loosely packed, each flower with 2 yellow-tipped stamens that have a few hairs on the lower half of the stamen stalk (filament).

[photo of female catkins] Female catkins are ¾ to 2½ inches long, the flowers loosely arranged on the spike, bottle-shaped with a long beak, hairless or silky hairy, and on slender stalks less than 1 mm long. At the base of each male and female flower stalk is a greenish to yellowish bract sparsely covered in short, crinkly hairs. The scales wither and drop off soon after flowering.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, 2¼ to 6 inches long, 1/8 to 3/8 inch wide, 8 to 25+ times as long as wide, linear to narrowly oblong, pointed at the tip, tapering at the base, sharply toothed around the edges. The upper surface is medium to dark green, the lower surface about the same color. Leaf-like appendages at the base of the leaf stalk (stipules) are absent or obscure.

[photo of yellow twig and new leaves] New leaves are sparsely to moderately covered in long, appressed, silky hairs on one or both surfaces and are green to yellowish or red-tinged, usually becoming hairless with age but the hairs may persist. New branchlets are hairless to variously hairy and yellowish to greenish, becoming hairless and orange-brown to red-brown or gray-brown the second year.

[photo of lower stems] Stems are multiple from the base, have smooth to slightly rough gray bark and can reach 3½ inches diameter, occasionally taking the form of a small tree. Large, dense stands are often formed from numerous root suckers.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of mature fruit] The spike elongates some as fruit matures, the fruit becoming more loosely arranged than the flowers.

[photo of capsule and scale] Fruit is a capsule 5 to 10 mm long, yellowish when mature, hairless to silky-hairy, narrowly pear-shaped to club-shaped, inflated at the base with a long beak. The capsule splits into two halves when mature, releasing the cottony seed.


There are over 20 species of Willows in Minnesota; Sandbar Willow is one of the most common species in the state, typically a large, multi-stemmed shrub and forming dense stands and large colonies; it may take the form of a small tree but this is uncommon. It is found in a variety of moist to wet places, usually in sandy, silty or loamy soil on lake and pond margins, river banks, marshes, prairie swales, floodplains and wet ditches, often with other Willow species. It has the narrowest leaves of all the Minnesota Willows, and leaves are about the same color green on both surfaces. Like other Willows, it first blooms in early May but will continue putting out catkins into July. These leaf characteristics and the continuous blooming separate it from all other Willows in the state.

In some references, Salix interior is treated as a subspecies of Salix exigua (subsp. interior). Per Flora of North America, S. exigua is considered a western species and their ranges do not naturally overlap. S. interior is known to hybridize with several other willows, but no hybrids have yet been recorded in the state.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore, MN
on: 2019-08-31 12:35:11

I believe my neighbor planted this and it has now spread to my yard. I first noticed it last year and cut what had spread to my property.Just spent a couple hrs.cutting the new growth. Please beware how prolific this willow is before planting.

Posted by: Jeff - St. Louis Park, MN
on: 2020-05-24 16:47:04

I've seen Salix interior both on the north and south ends of Westwood Lake. I'm from Alaska. In Alaska's Interior region, S. interior is found along the Tanana River.

Posted by: Timothy Johnson - Brooklyn Park
on: 2023-03-26 10:45:21

We're thinking of planting some Sandbar willow along the eroding banks of the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Park. Wondering why we've not seen this native plant growing along this section of the river? Was it once here and now extirpated due to deer, rabbit, beaver over browsing?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-03-26 15:35:51

Timothy, herbarium records indicate sandbar willow, in general, is much more common in wet meadows and on sandy shores than along rivers, though there are a few records from along the Mississippi River. It may or may not have been in that particular area in the past.

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