Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Salix exigua, Narrowleaf Willow

Narrowleaf Willow is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 15 feet or so. The leaves are narrowly linear with short stems (petioles). Salix exiguaNarrowleaf Willow develops both male and female flowers (catkins) in early spring before or with new spring leaf growth. Salix exiguaNarrowleaf Willow or Coyote Willow forms thickets from clonal root sprouts. It has a very large range of distribution across western North America. Salix exiguaNarrowleaf Willow has both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers (catkins) that bloom in early spring. The flowers shown here are male. Salix exiguaNarrowleaf Willow has both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers that bloom in early spring. The flowers shown here are female. Salix exigua

Scientific Name: Salix exigua
Common Name: Narrowleaf Willow

Also Called: Coyote Willow, Desert Willow, Hinds' Willow, Narrow-leaf Willow, Sandbar Willow, (Spanish: Sauce)

Family: Salicaceae or Willow Family

Synonyms: (Salix exigua 7 var., Salix fagifolia, Salix fallacina, Salix fluviatilis var. argophylla, Salix hindsiana 3 var., Salix interior 2 var., Salix longifolia 3 var., Salix luteosericea, Salix macrostachya var. leucodendroides, Salix malacophylla, Salix nevadensis, Salix parishiana, Salix sessilifolia subsp. hindsiana, Salix sessilifolia 2 var., Salix stenophylla)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Up to 15 to 20 feet or so.

Growth Form: Shrub, tree; deciduous; clonal from root sprouting, often forming thickets; twigs brownish and silky becoming glabrous.

Leaves: Green; leaves linear-lanceolate with short petioles, new leaves silky also becoming glabrous, margins variable, entire to serrated.

Flower Color: Green or inconspicuous; flowers (catkins) after, or during new leaf growth; pistillate and staminate flowers; fruit a glabrous capsule.

Flowering Season: March to May.

Elevation: Up to 9,500 feet; below 7,000 feet in California.

Habitat Preferences: Along streams, marshes and wet ditches.

Recorded Range: Salix exigua is found in the western ½ of the United States and Canada. It is also native to Baja California and northern Mexico. In Arizona it is found throughout the state in appropriate habitat.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Salix exigua.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Salix exigua, Narrowleaf Willow has the following wetland designations: North America, Arid West, FACW; Great Plains, FACW; Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACW.
FACW = Facultative Wetland, usually occur in wetlands, but may occur in non-wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: In North America Salix exigua, Narrowleaf Willow is listed by the following states as Threatened or Endangered: Connecticut, Sandbar Willow, Threatened; Maryland, Sandbar Willow, Endangered, Massachusetts, Sandbar Willow, Threatened.

Genus Information: In North America there are 129 species and 200 accepted taxa overall for Salix. World wide, The Plant List includes 552 accepted species names with 963 infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States, Arizona has 20 species of Salix, California has 30 species, Nevada has 24 species, New Mexico has 24 species, Texas has 8 species and Utah has 27 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua is common where found and has a long line of synonyms and extremely variable in shape and form from region to region and within regions as well. Salix exigua has an extreme range of distribution across in North America.

Narrowleaf Willow is common in southwestern United States deserts where it is found along streams commonly with Arizona Walnut (Juglans major), Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii).

In Southwest Desert Flora also see Goodding's Willow, Salix gooddingii and Peachleaf Willow, Salix amygdaloides.

Importance to Wildlife and Livestock
Narrowleaf Willow has value for wildlife as moose, elk and mule deer are known to browse the plants. Late summer and winter may also provide additional browse for elk. It is also known to be heavily-used by beaver. Narrowleaf Willow provides good food value for small mammals and for waterfowl. It also provides important nesting and cover sites for non-game birds and small non-game birds. Apparently Narrowleaf Willow also provides good cover for mule deer, white-tailed deer and upland game birds.
This species is important browse for livestock.

For a comprehensive thoroughly documented review of Salix exigua see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua is a host plant for the following butterfly caterpillars: - Find out more from Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).
  • Rocky Mountain agapema, Agapema homogena; Caterpillar Hosts: Adults do not feed.
  • Etymology:
    The genus Salix is directly from the Latin word "Salix" which means willow. The genus Salix was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The species epithet "exigua" from Latin translated means little, poor in growth, or weak and also the Latin word exilis, Latin for "small, thin, slender, feeble"; each a reference to the short height reached of the tree/shrub willow.

    Salix exigua, Narrowleaf Willow has been used for a variety of purposes by North American indigenous peoples.
  • Blackfoot Fiber, Building Material, Use to make the framework of the sweat lodges.
  • Costanoan Fiber, Basketry, Shoots used in basketry.
  • Flathead Fiber, Basketry, Willow made into baskets cemented with gum and used to cook fish.
  • Havasupai Other, Tools, Used to make tongs for removing cactus fruit.
  • Kawaiisu Other, Smoking Tools, Twigs with leaves used as 'wrappers' to hold tobacco.
  • Lakota Fiber, Building Material, Branches used for building sweatlodges.
  • Pomo, Kashaya Fiber, Building Material, Large branches used as the framework for thatched summer homes, sudatories and other construction.
  • Montana Indian Drug, Antirheumatic (External), Poles used for framework of 'sweat tepee' for rheumatism.
  • Navajo Food, Fodder, Leaves and bark used as food for both wild and domesticated animals.

  • See all ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 07/28/2016, updated 09/11/2019
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 09/09/2019)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 09/09/2019)
    Anderson, Michelle. 2006. Salix exigua. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2016, July 28].
    Salicaceae Part Two: Salix - JANAS 29(1): 39-62. 1995. (G.W. Argus)(accessed 09/11/2019)
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 07/28/2016]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    1993, The Jepson Manual, Citation: (accessed 07/28/2016),7045,7056
    Michael Charters, California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations - A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology Compiled by Michael L. Charters - (accessed 09/09/2019) - Excellent site.
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names, recorded geographic locations and general information 07/28/2016).