Plants of the Western Slope Jan. 18, 2017
By Evelyn Horn
Published Thursday, January 19, 2017 9:58 am
Photo by Al Schneider, www.swcoloradowildflowers.com
On leaving Delta, we took 1600 Road, then turned onto the Trap Club Road and followed it past the landfill. As we neared the junction with North Road, I began to carefully note the roadside vegetation. And there they were, Coyote Willows in their wintry dress -- four-foot-tall, leafless red stems, so thickly clustered that they formed a hedge and added a bit of color to the drab winter 'dobies.
This abundant native shrub ranges across North America from sea level to 9,000 feet elevation. And, amazingly, species of willow exist in the alpine. Commonly they're known as "rock willow" and "snow willow" and are often mere inches in height. In contrast, willows may occur as trees: the introduced globe willow, weeping willow, white and black willows.
The willow plant family, Salicaceae, with over 500 species worldwide, has two main divisions, Salix and Populus. Our Coyote Willow, also known as "sandbar willow," has the botanical label of Salix exigua, with salix being the classical Latin name for "willow" and exigua meaning "small."
So, how to identify a "willow?" First of all, the male and female flowers are on different plants. And the female plants all have fuzzy hairs attached to the seeds, as shown in Al Schneider's photo. So you might buy a "clean" willow, such as the weeping willow or a globe willow. These are simply male willows which do not have the fuzzy seeds.
Now I admire the Coyote willow in its winter dress. I'll have to wait for summer to see them with deep green leaves and elongated clusters of flowers and fuzzy seeds.
It will be worth the wait!