Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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S.G. Aiken, M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, C.L. McJannet, R.L. Boles, G.W. Argus, J.M. Gillett, P.J. Scott, R. Elven, M.C. LeBlanc, L.J. Gillespie, A.K. Brysting, H. Solstad, and J.G. Harris

Salicaceae Mirbel

French: Salicacée,

Inuktitut: Suputii, suputitsait, alaksaujai, uqaujait, qiati, amaap silappianga, uuqpiq, suputiit (Baffin Island), Amaallinaaq (Nunavik), urqpiq (Inuvialuit).

Salicaceae, Willow family.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 0.5–900 cm high; shrubs; dwarf shrubs, or low shrubs, or mid shrubs, or tall shrubs, or trees; not colonial, or forming colonies by layering, or forming colonies by rhizomes. Aerial stems erect, or decumbent, or prostrate. Branches yellowish, or grey-brown, or red-brown, or violet, or yellow-brown, or brownish; not glaucous, or weakly glaucous, or strongly glaucous; glabrous, or glabrescent, or hairy; hairs pilose, or villous, or long-silky. Branchlets yellow-green, or yellow-brown, or grey-brown, or red-brown, or violet, or brownish; not glaucous, or weakly glaucous, or strongly glaucous; glabrous, or hairy, or glabrescent; puberulent, or pubescent, or pilose, or villous, or tomentose, or with short-silky hairs, or with long-silky hairs. Branchlet hairs sparse, or moderately dense, or very dense; appressed, or spreading. Buds arctica-type, or caprea-type. Leaves distributed along the stems; alternate; dying annually and non-persistent, or marcescent. Stipules present; on first leaves absent, or rudimentary, or foliaceous; on leaves formed later in the season absent, or rudimentary, or foliaceous; early deciduous, or deciduous in autumn, or persisting for 2 or more years; brown, or green; apex acuminate, or acute, or obtuse, or rounded. Petioles 1.5–9.493–46 mm long; convex to flat in cross section, or shallowly concave in cross section, or deeply concave in cross section, or deeply concave in cross section, margins covering groove; glabrous, or hairy, or glabrescent; puberulent, or pilose, or villous, or long-silky. Juvenile leaves reddish, or yellowish green; glabrous, or hairy; abaxial surfaces puberulent, or pubescent, or pilose, or villous, or tomentose, or woolly, or hairs long-silky; abaxial hairs sparse, or moderately dense, or very dense; abaxial hairs white, or grey. Leaf blade bases cordate, or truncate, or obtuse, or cuneate, or rounded. Blades 4–85(–115) mm long, length-width ratio 0.7–5.5, 3.6–60 mm wide, oblong or elliptic or circular or lanceolate or oblanceolate or obovate. Blade adaxial surface dull or shiny or highly glossy, glabrous or glabrescent or hairy, hairs puberulent or pilose or villous or tomentose or short-silky or long-silky, hairs sparse or moderately dense, hairs white, or translucent or grey or a mixture of white and rust-coloured hairs. Blade abaxial surface not glaucous or glaucous, glabrous or glabrescent or hairy, hairs pilose or villous or tomentose or short-silky or long-silky or woolly, hairs sparse or moderately dense or very dense, hairs white or rust-coloured or a mixture of white and rust-coloured, hairs straight or wavy or curved, hairs appressed or spreading or erect. Blade margins flat or slightly revolute or strongly revolute. Blade margins glandular-dotted or serrulate or crenate or entire, with teeth all around the blade or toward the base or toward the apex, with teeth per cm 1–20; apices acuminate, or acute, or obtuse, or rounded, or retuse.

Reproductive morphology. Plants dioecious. Inflorescences catkins. Pedicels absent. Catkins arising from sub-apical buds; flowering before leaves emerge, or as leaves emerge. Male catkins 2–55 mm long; 1.5–27 mm wide; slender, or stout, or sub-globose, or globose; peduncles 0–4.125–26 mm long; borne on a flowering branchlet, or sessile; flowering branchlets 0–50 mm long (mean 6 mm long). Female catkins 3–115 mm long; 2–25 mm wide; slender, or stout, or sub-globose, or globose; peduncles 0–50 mm long (mean about 8 mm long); borne on a flowering branchlet, or sessile; flowering branchlets 0–57 mm long. Floral bracts tawny, or light rose, or brown, or black, or bicolour; 0.5–3.7 mm long; glabrous, or hairy all over, or hairy mainly at apex; hairs sparse, or moderately dense, or very dense; hairs straight, or wavy; apices acute, or convex, or rounded, or truncate, or retuse. Flowers unisexual. Sepals absent. Petals absent. Stamens 2, or 1; stamen filaments glabrous, or hairy for the full length, or hairy on lower half, or hairy at base only. Anthers purple, or purple becoming yellow, or reddish, becoming yellow; ellipsoid, or short-cylindrical, or long-cylindrical, or ovoid, or sub-globose; 0.3–0.9 mm long. Male flowers abaxial nectaries absent, or present. Male flowers adaxial nectaries narrowly oblong, or oblong, or square, or ovate; 0.4–1.75 mm long; nectaries distinct, or connate and cup-shaped. Female flowers abaxial nectaries absent, or present. Female flowers adaxial nectaries narrowly oblong, or oblong, or square, or ovate; 0.3–2 mm long; shorter than stipes, or equal to stipes, or longer than stipes; nectaries distinct, or connate and cup-shaped. Ovary carpels 2 (in Salix). Stipes 0–2.8 mm long. Ovaries inverse club-shaped, or pear-shaped, or ovate, or inverse turnip-shaped; gradually tapering to style, or slightly bulged below style, or abruptly tapering to style; glabrous, or hairy; puberulent, or pubescent, or pilose, or villous, or tomentose, or short-silky, or long-silky. Ovary hairs sparse, or moderately dense, or very dense; white, or white and rust-coloured; appressed, or spreading; straight, or wavy, or crinkled; flattened, or ribbon-like, or cylindrical. Styles free, or partially fused, or completely fused (usually); 0.1–3 mm long. Stigma lobes 0.08–1.28 mm long. Ovules per ovary 4–34. Fruit a capsule; 2.2–9 mm long; glabrous, or hairy (sometime glabrescent).

Indigenous knowledge. The Inuit name in northern Quebec for Salix is amaallinaaq. To ease the pain of a toothache, the peeled root of a dwarf willow is bitten on top of the sore tooth. This numbs the pain and sucks any dirt or abscess out (Anon. 1984). Any kind of green willow leaves can be crushed or chewed and applied to bee stings and other insect bites, burns, rashes, aches, cuts, and toothaches. Some people prefer to use leaves that are white on the underside (Andre and Fehr 2000).

The Baffin name for willow is Suputiit; after they have gone to seed they are called suputitsait, which means "taken away by the wind" or "lighter than wind". Young, green willow leaves are called Uqaujait. The small reddish leaves are called alaksaujai (Ootoova et al. 2001). The woody willow root is called qiati or amaap silappianga. The Inuvialuit name is Uuqpiq (Myrna Pokiak, personal communication, Nov. 2003). Suputiit have haemostatic qualities (i.e., they stop bleeding). The fluffy catkins were pounded and shaken to separate seeds and other impurities from the cotton. The cotton is then used to heal and dry the umbilical cord. Suputiit swallowed in small amounts can relieve indigestion from too much fat intake. They can also relieve diarrhoea and cure cuts around the cuticle area (Ootoova et al. 2001).

Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people peeled the bark from young shoots into strips, which could be wrapped around a cut like a bandage and tied in place with a cloth. The white inner bark from young shoots can be made into a poultice and used as a painkiller on wounds.

Porsild (1950) stated that the leaves of several arctic willows that occur in Alaska and the western Northwest Territories are palatable. Young leaves and buds, rich sources of vitamin C, were frequently eaten in the spring. The children of Bathurst Inlet say they eat the "fat of the willow". They strip away the outer bark to twigs, approximately 6 mm in diameter, then scrape off the white cambium layer with their teeth. It tastes faintly sweet (Burt 2000). In the springtime, the Gwich'in people peel bark from the new shoots and lick the sweet juice, chew the stem or eat the tips (Andre and Fehr 2000). An interview with Elizabeth S. Nutarakittuq revealed that "arctic willows are good to eat with blubber as they satisfied one's hunger. They varied in tastes, some tasted very sour, but some tasted sweet to eat. That is, before they turned into "pussy willow", meaning developed catkins. We would make gum with them" (Mallory and Aiken 2004).

The Inuit have often utilised the willow. Twigs, especially those of dead plants, are used for fuel. Suputiit can be mixed with moss for wicks for the qulliq (the traditional lamps). Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people use the small dry twigs found among branches on the willow tree for starting fires. In addition, they can be used to make a caribou stomach hold its shape when it was being dried for use as a container (Ootoova et al. 2001).

The flexible branches are used in the construction of drying racks, the shafts of fish spears and kayak ribs (Burt 2000). Whistles can be made from the new but harder willow stem. Willow bark was used to make fish nets; willow roots, for mending and constructing snowshoes, smokehouses, canoes, and nets. Willow branches are good among spruce boughs in a tent. Mary Kendi of Fort McPherson reported that her grandmother used to knit willows into rugs for around the stove. Willows also make a good mat for outside the tent door.

Young willows are strong and can be used to tie together 5–10 whitefish. The willows are strong enough that the fish can then be hung up. A thick bed of willow branches can serve as a place to keep meat clean when butchering a moose or a caribou. Beaver pelt stretchers are made with willows, and in summer, the spring for high-set rabbit snares can be made by bending over a thick willow. Fish traps used to be made with willow poles that were stuck into the bottom of a river or creek. Willow was used to make smoke for drying meat, and in the days before metal cutlery, for making spoons and forks (Andre and Fehr 2000).

The frames of drums have been made from willow (Andre and Fehr 2000). Rings made from willow were used for a game where the ring was thrown into the river and then children ran along the bank of the river trying to catch the ring with a stick.

Young willow catkins may be chewed as they are similar to gum (Eva Aariak, personal communication, 2006).

General notes. Rodahl (1945) found that the Vitamin C and B1 content of the leaves and buds of Arctic willows was among the highest of the other arctic plants that he examined.

The willows are important soil stabilisers and provide shelter and food for wildlife (Burt 2000). Willow buds constitute the major portion of the diet of ptarmigan. Arctic hares, lemmings, muskoxen, and caribou feed on the bark and twig (Klinc and Boz 1991). At times, muskoxen will feed selectively on willows, wandering from patch to patch. An animal grabs a branch of willow in its mouth, and strips the leaves from it with a twist of the head and neck. This results in a very characteristic feeding damage.


This publication is available on the internet (posted May 2011) and on CD-ROM (published in 2007). These versions are identical in content, except that the errata page for CD-ROM is accessible on the main index page of the web version.

Recommended citation for the web-based version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa. http://nature.ca/aaflora/data, accessed on DATE.

Recommended citation for the CD-ROM version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. [CD-ROM] NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa.

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