Ward’s Willow (Carolina Willow; Coastal Plain Willow; Ward Willow)

Family: 
Salicaceae (willows)
Description: 

A shrub or small tree with spreading or drooping branches, forming an open, irregular crown.

Leaves alternate, simple, 2–7 inches long, narrowly lance-shaped, tip pointed, base narrowed on young leaves, rounded on older ones; upper surface bright green; lower surface white to silvery; young leaves with matted hairs; margin finely toothed; stipules (leaflike structures by the leaf stalks) up to ¾ inch across, with toothed edges.

Bark reddish-brown to gray, checkered, breaking into closely flattened scales.

Twigs slender, yellowish- to reddish-brown or grayish, more or less hairy, becoming smooth.

Flowers April–May, male and female flowers in separate catkins, borne on separate plants; catkins slender, narrow, cylindrical, yellow-green.

Fruits June–July, capsule about ¼ inch long, egg-shaped or conical, long-pointed, brown when mature; stalk of capsule short, almost absent; seeds tiny with silky hairs at the base that are 2–3 times as long as the seed.

Size: 
Height: to 30 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs along gravel bars, sandy gravel beds and rocky banks of streams. This is the most common willow along gravel bars in Ozark streams. This is a pioneer species that invades and stabilizes newly formed gravel bars. This flexible willow "bends like a willow" to withstand the force of floods and storms.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Mostly statewide. Most common and abundant in the Ozarks. Uncommon to absent in the northwestern quarter and in the southeastern lowlands.
Human connections: 
This is one of the willow species that is used in the Ozarks for making wickerwork for baskets, furniture and ornamental pieces. Land managers use this willow along waterways to prevent erosion. Beekeepers are glad for the nectar produced by this plant, which bees make into a high-grade honey.
Ecosystem connections: 
The twigs and leaves are consumed by deer; the shoots and buds are eaten by many rodents, including muskrat and beaver, as well as cottontail rabbits. Some ducks and water birds eat the catkins and leaves. The dense thickets of this willow provide important cover for many animals.