Large shrubs or small trees, Sandbar willows are typically 6 to 22 feet in height and often form dense, clonal stands that sprout from root suckers. The plant is dioecious, with male and female parts in separate individuals. Male plants sprout ¾ to 2 ½” long catkins with densely packed yellowish flowers. Female plants have catkins similar in length to male catkins, but they are more loosely arranged on slender stalks less than 1 mm long. The sharply-toothed leaves are alternate, averaging 2 ½ to 6” long, and are typically between 8 and 25 times as long as they are wide. Multiple stems grow from the base and the gray bark is typically smooth to slightly rough.
Sandbar willow stands provide shelter for deer, rabbits, and wild turkeys. Deer and rabbits eat the bark, and the plant is a favorite food source and building material for beavers.
Sandbar willow outcompetes other plants where the water table is high and forms large colonies. It thrives in a variety of moist environments, particularly along riverbanks and pond margins, as well as floodplains and prairie swales.
In the Arb:
The Sandbar Willow is the most common willow lining the Arb’s waterways. It is especially abundant in open, sunny areas in the Cannon River floodplain.