Salix matsudana

Salix matsudana (Chinese Willow) is a species of willow native to northwestern China. The species is named in honour of Sadahisa Matsudo, a Japanese botanist.

It is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree, growing up to 20-25 ft tall. It is upright and grows rapidly, but has a short lifespan. The leaves are narrow, light green, around 4-10 cm long and 1-2 cm broad. The flowers are catkins produced early in the spring; it is dioecious, with the male and female catkins on separate trees.

Many botanists, notably the Russian willow expert Alexei Konstantinovich Skvortsov, treat Salix matsudana as a synonym of the Peking Willow Salix babylonica, which, despite its botanical name, is also native to northern China. The only reported difference between the two is that S. matsudana has two nectaries in each female flower, whereas S. babylonica has only one; however this character is variable in many willows (e.g. Crack Willow Salix fragilis can have either one or two), so even this difference may mean nothing.

Cultivation and uses

Chinese Willow has been introduced into many areas as an ornamental tree, including Australia, Europe and North America. A particularly popular cultivar is Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa', the "Corkscrew Willow" (also known as the Hankow Willow, Curly Willow or Globe Willow), in which the branches and twigs grow in a spiral, twisting manner. As a result of the ornamental shape of the branches and twigs, this cultivar is commonly used as a bonsai plant and for floral arrangements. This cultivar is susceptible to cankers, and is weak-wooded and prone to storm damage. Cultivars that have been selected to resist this include 'Golden Curls' (a hybrid with the White Willow Salix alba), 'Scarlet Curls', and 'Navajo', the "Navajo Willow" selected in the southwest US.

Another cultivar of hybrid origin between Chinese Willow and White Willow is 'Austree'; this is an exceptionally fast-growing cultivar with straight (not contorted) branches, sold for screening and fast tree cover. However it too is very prone to cankers and other diseases, making it very short-lived and unsuitable for most of the purposes for which it is sold.


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