Salix arctica

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Arctic willow
Salix arctica USFWS.jpg
Arctic willow foliage and male catkins
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Salicaceae
Genus: Salix
Species: S. arctica
Binomial name
Salix arctica
  • Salix anglorum Cham.
  • Salix anglorum var. araioclada 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 brownei Lundstr.
  • Salix brownii Bebb
  • Salix diplodictya Trautv.
  • Salix ehlei Flod.
  • Salix pallasii Andersson
  • Salix taimyrensis Trautv.
Salix arctica

Salix arctica (arctic willow) is a tiny creeping willow (family Salicaceae). It is adapted to survive in Arctic conditions, specifically tundras.


The arctic willow grows in tundra and rocky moorland, and is the northernmost woody plant in the world, occurring far above the tree line to the northern limit of land on the north coast of Greenland.

It also occurs further south in North America on high-altitude alpine tundra, south to the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico, and in Asia to Xinjiang in China.[3][4][5]


S. arctica is typically a low shrub growing to only 15 cm (6 in) in height (rarely to 25 cm (10 in) high), but in the Pacific Northwest, it may reach 50 cm (20 in) in height,[6] and has round, shiny green leaves 1–4 cm (0.4–1.6 in) long and broad, rarely up to 8 cm (3 in) long, and 6 cm (2.4 in) broad; they are pubescent, with long, silky, silvery hairs. Like the rest of the willows, arctic willow is dioecious, with male and female catkins on separate plants. As a result, the plant's appearance varies; the female catkins are red-coloured, while the male catkins are yellow-coloured.[4][7]

Despite its small size, it is a long-lived plant, growing extremely slowly in the severe arctic climate; one in eastern Greenland was found to be 236 years old.[4]

Hybrids with Salix arcticola and Salix glauca are known.[4]


The arctic willow is a food source for several arctic animals. Muskoxen, caribou, arctic hares, and lemmings all feed on the bark and twigs, while the buds are the main food source of the ptarmigan.

It is also the primary host plant and food source for the arctic woolly bear moth, G. groenlandica.[8]

Both the Inuit and the Gwich’in make use of this willow. Twigs are used as fuel, while the decayed flowers (suputiit) are mixed with moss and used as wicking in the kudlik. The plant was used for several medicinal purposes, such as relieving toothache, helping to stop bleeding, curing diarrhoea and indigestion, and as a poultice on wounds. Both the Gwich’in and Inuit in the Bathurst Inlet area were known to eat parts of the arctic willow, which is high in vitamin C and tastes sweet.[9]


  1. ^ Tropicos
  2. ^ The Plant List
  3. ^ "Salix arctica". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 24 December 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d Salicaceae of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Salix arctica Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Flora Europaea: Salix arctica
  6. ^ "Salix arctica" (PDF). 
  7. ^ Jepson Flora: Salix arctica
  8. ^ Salix arctica Kukal, Olga (March 24, 1988)."Behavioral Thermoregulation in the Freeze-Tolerant Arctic Caterpillar, Gynaephora groenlandica" (PDF). The Company of Biologists Limited.
  9. ^ Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, S.G. Aiken, M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, C.L. McJannet, L.J. Gillespie, R.L. Boles, G.W. Argus, J.M. Gillett, P.J. Scott, R. Elven, M.C. LeBlanc, A.K. Brysting and H. Solstad. 1999 onwards. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version: 29 April 2003.

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