Arctic willow – Salix arctica

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Alaska Wildflowers | Pink

Arctic willow in the White Mountains in the Alaska interior

Arctic Willow

Salix arctica

Salix anglorum
Salix brownei
Salix crassijulis
Salix hudsonensis
Salix pallasii
Salix tortulosa

(all variations)

Common Names:
Arctic willow
Northern willow

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Genus: Salix L. (willow)
Family: Salicaceae (Willow family)
Order: Salicales
full classification

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For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

The Inuit ate young arctic willow leaves with blubber. Roots were peeled and bitten to relieve a sore throat or toothache. It is high in vitamin C and has been used as a cure for diarrhea. The bark and twigs are a food source for arctic hares, musk oxen, moose, caribou, and lemmings. The buds are a food source for ptarmigan.


Arctic willow is a creeping dwarf shrub with catkins that are absent of sepals or petals. The plants are 3-25 cm (1-10 in) tall with erect or trailing stems with reddish-brown or yellow-brown branches. The leaves are highly variable but are typically narrowly to broadly elliptic, circular, or obovate (egg-shaped). The top part of the leaf is smooth and dark green while the lower surface is paler and has long, fine hairs.

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The flower is a cylindrical catkin. Salix arctica is unisexual, each plant having either male or female catkins. The female catkin is 3-7 cm (1-2.75 in) long, are typically very hairy, with pink or reddish filaments, and dark purple anthers. The male catkins are smaller, 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in), also hairy, and yellow.

Identification can be difficult due to the common hybridization of willow species (see note below).

Distribution and Habitat

Salix arctica is distributed throughout the arctic, including Alaska, most of Canada, Greenland, Asia, and the Pacific Northwest of the US.

The arctic willow, like most willows, needs full sun to thrive but can survive in a wide variety of environments, both wet and dry. It is found in moss beds, lake and stream beaches, near snowbeds, talus and rocky slopes, glacial moraines, and tundra.


RankScientific Name and (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (Plants)
SubkingdomTracheobionta (Vascular plants)
SuperdivisionSpermatophyta (Seed plants)
DivisionMagnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
ClassMagnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
FamilySalicaceae (Willow family)
GenusSalix L. (willow)
SpeciesSalix arctica Pall. (arctic willow)


Salix arctica var. arctica Pall.
Salix arctica ssp. crassijulis (Trautv.) A.K. Skvortsov
Salix anglorum auct. non Cham.
Salix brownei (Andersson) Bebb
Salix crassijulis Trautv.
Salix pallasii Andersson
Salix tortulosa Trautv.
Salix anglorum var. antiplasta C.K. Schneid.
Salix anglorum var. araioclada C.K. Schneid.
Salix anglorum var. kophophylla C.K. Schneid.
Salix arctica var. antiplasta (C.K. Schneid.) Fernald
Salix arctica var. araioclada (C.K. Schneid.) Raup
Salix arctica var. brownei Andersson
Salix arctica var. kophophylla (C.K. Schneid.) Polunin
Salix arctica var. pallasii (Andersson) Kurtz
Salix pallasii var. crassijulis (Trautv.) Andersson
Salix arctica R. Br. ex Richardson
Salix arctica ssp. torulosa (Trautv.) Hultén
Salix arctica var. torulosa (Trautv.) Raup


All willows are commonly hybridized. Although, there has not yet been extensive hybridization in Alaska. According to Collet, the easiest way to tell if willow is hybridized, it will have a misshapen or aborted catkin. Several hybridizations of Salix arctica are noted in Flora of North America.

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Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 89

Salix arctica  Pall. Taxonomic Serial No.: 565479, ITIS Database

Salix arctica Pall. arctic willow, USDA Database

Salix arctica Pall., Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

Arctic Willow (Salix arctica), Thule, Greenland, UN Environment programme – GRID-Arendal

40. Salix arctica Pallas, Fl. Ross. 1(2): 86. 1788. Arctic willow., Flora of North America (

Alpine (Arctic) Willow, Sierra Club BC

Collet, D., (2004). Willows of Interior Alaska. US Fish and Wildlife Service

All online sources accessed August 2020 unless otherwise noted

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