Arroyo Willow: the Cultural Pillar of your Native garden

To many gardeners, when it comes to choosing plants for their native garden, aesthetic pleasure is not the only thing that matters. Sometimes, historical value and practical use are also taken into consideration. If you’re the type of gardener who appreciates history and the wonderful world of ethnobotany, Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis) should be a good choice for you.


Arroyo Willow belongs the Salicaceae family. Native to most of California north to Idaho and Alaska, this deciduous shrub is naturally found growing along streams, washes and pond margins. Therefore, if you have any water feature in your garden, Arroyo Willow is definitely a must-have. It enjoys moisture and should be planted in full sun or partial shade. Like other willows in the wild, Arroyo Willow depends on occasional flooding for regeneration. This allows seedlings to grow and dislodged limbs and trunks to reestablish themselves when partially buried. As a pioneer species on wet sites, Arroyo Willow thrives on well-drained soil, reaching from 9 to 15 feet in height. It can tolerate sandy soil, but not clay soil or rock. The shrub requires moderate water, but remember that it does not need special attention. Wild and fast growing, Arroyo Willow is not traditionally “garden tolerant” and prefers a more natural setting with limited human influence.

male catkins, San Onofre State Beach, San Diego Co., CA.   1-7-12 013

Arroyo Willow male catkins

female catkins,  Mason Regional Park, Irvine, CA.  2-17-08 040

Female catkins

This plant brings to your garden the shiny light green foliage and the special catkin flowers that normally last from January to April. Arroyo Willow is monoecious with male and female blooms on the same plant. A male catkin is bright yellow and has 2 stamens with smooth and united filaments. Females are green and have black-tipped pistils. Aesthetically, Arroyo Willow contributes its unique look to any garden. Ecologically, Arroyo Willow serves as the major larval food for many types of butterflies and other gall-inducing insects, such as Sawfly, Viceroy and Mourning Cloak.

However, what makes Arroyo Willow a “landmark” of your native garden has more to do with its role in shaping the rich history of the indigenous peoples in California. Arroyo Willow is among the most common species of plants used by Native American basket makers, especially those in Southern California. Its smooth bark is used as foundation, wrapping, decorative and twinning elements in their basketry. The Chumash, who inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California, trimmed and used Arroyo Willow branches as poles to build huts. They also made bows, tools, ropes, and cradle boards to carry babies from this willow. Besides its contributions as a useful building material, the bark could also be used to relieve toothaches and other pains because it contains salicylic acid which is found in aspirin. Nowadays, Arroyo Willow is still among the most well-known materials to make musical instruments like flutes.


Arroyo Willow Branch Flute F

If you have Arroyo Willow in your garden, you will definitely have a great time sharing interesting facts about this plant with your guests! Sometimes, the true beauty of your native garden does not lie entirely in its external look, but in the value of the native culture that celebrates.

Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis) is now available at the California Native Garden Foundation’s Plant Nursery, 76 Race Street, San Jose, CA 95126.  Come pay us a visit!



 “Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis)”. 2012 San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, Inc., 2012. Web. 29 July 2015.


 “Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis). Natural History of Orange County, California. University of California, Irvine. Web. 28 July 2015.


 Image sources:

Salix Lasiolepis, Arroyo Willow. Digital image. Las Pilitas Nursery. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2015.


 Arroyo Willow male catkins. Digital image. Natural History of Orange County. University of California, Irvine, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. <>.

 Arroyo Willow female catkins. Digital image. Natural History of Orange County. University of California, Irvine, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. <>.

 Arroyo Willow Branch Flute F. Digital image. Dryad Flutes. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. <>. 



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