Arctic Willow: Let’s Discover the Expedition of Salix Arctica

Arctic willow is one type of shrub that you can mainly find in the Arctic and Suv-arctic areas. It is well-adapted to the adverse climate of those regions and can live for a longer period. Arctic willow is well-known as a food source for arctic animals and its medicinal value.

I am going to provide an in-depth discussion about the habitats, variants, growth, and use of the arctic willow. You will also come to know its wide range of medicinal benefits if you keep reading. Hence, if you are interested in this little plant, keep reading.

Arctic Willow at a Glance

Scientific nameSalix arctica
Plant typeShrubs
Width10-20 inch
Root typeShallow
SoilMoisture and dry ground, sandy
WateringModerate watering
SunlightFull sun, partial sun
Bloom timeSummer
Flower colorRed, Pink, Purple Yellow, Brown
Leaf colorGreen, Silver, Gray
UseErosion control, Medicinal use, foods for various insects, birds, and animals, Foods of arctic animals.  

What is Arctic Willow?

Arctic willow is one type of low shrub that has quite pale foliage. Its scientific name is Salix arctica.

This plant belongs to the plant family Salicaceae. It can also grow as ground carpet and prostate. Mostly you can find this plant in the arctic region. But, surprisingly, you can also notice them in places like the Boreal forest and Tundra region.

It has a circumpolar distribution. Do you know what this circumpolar distribution is? It means this plant is distributed in such a way that it is scattered around the north or south pole.

Why is it called Arctic Willow?

The main reason behind this name is its habitat. Arctic willow is mostly found in the arctic and subarctic regions. That’s why it is known as arctic willow.

This plant is one of the most popular food sources for arctic animals. Because of the harsh climate, there are few food options. Arctic willow is one of those available foods in the arctic region.

As many arctic animals are fond of these shrubs, it could be the reason behind its “arctic willow” name. Mostly, caribou, reindeer, arctic hares, etc., animals depend on shrubs like arctic willow for survival.

Arctic Willow with leaf

Where does Arctic Willow Grow?

It has a circumpolar distribution, which means that this plant is distributed in such a way that it is scattered around the north or south pole.

This plant is commonly found in Northern Alaska and Northern Canada because of the cold climate. Mostly found on the north coast of Greenland, northern Russia, wetlands, and forests.

It grows well in which soils are drained well to have enough space for oxygen and water flow. Its growth rate is very high, even in saturated soils. The adaptability of these plants is very strong, and they can adjust to any type of soil.

Surprisingly, it can grow in dry soil, with a variety of ph. This plant does not grow in tropical climates. Arctic willow prefers cold climates.

Are there Willow Trees in the Arctic?

Yes. You can find Arctic willow in the Arctic regions.

Willow plants belong to the genus Salix. There are approximately 400 species in this genus. According to the species, the willow plants could be shrubs or deciduous trees.

Mainly arctic and alpine willow species are shrubs-like. Other species consist of deciduous trees. The willow plant that is available in the Arctic region is the Arctic willow. Only this species can survive in the harsh cold weather of this region.

What does Arctic Willow Look Like?

This plant does not grow much in height. It grows up to approximately 15-20 cm in height. Blue arctic willow can also reach 10 to 20 feet in length. 25 feet height could have been increased with proper nutrition.

It has different shapes and grows shrubs, prostate, and carpets. The leaves of this plant are very small, no longer than 15-50 mm.

The shape of leaves is oval shaped. There are small spots on the leaves. The leaves have 2 shades of green. Its leaves are dark green on the bottom, and the top is light green.

This plant blooms in spring. The flower size is around 5 cm and dark brown or sparkling pink. The flowers of the blue arctic willow plant are light green.

Is Arctic Willow a Perennial?

Yes. Arctic willow is a perennial plant.

A perennial plant refers to a plant that can live for a longer period. At least they can survive for two or three blooming seasons. However, arctic willow grows quite slowly in the arctic region. Hence, it lives for a longer period, even in harsh climates.

Naturally, an arctic willow lives up to 80 years, which is a great plant lifespan. But, as almost all the herbivorous arctic animals depend on this plant for food, it can’t live till the end.

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How Big does an Arctic Willow Get?

The Arctic Willow plant is not so large. That is why it’s called a herbaceous plant.

However, its height is approximately fifteen to twenty centimeters. Since its size does not increase much, its leaves are also very tiny, which is fifteen to twenty millimeters.

But the blue arctic willow is much bigger in height. It can be medium to tall. These plants can even reach ten to twenty feet. Though it can be bigger in height than this, if it can get proper nutrients, then a height of up to 25 feet is also possible.

Arctic Willow

Do Arctic Willows Need Water?

Yes. They need a moderate amount of water for their growth. Though they can survive in both wet and dry places, a wet place is more suitable for them.

How much water they will need depends on the rainfall. If you want to plant arctic willow plants, you need to water the new-planted willow weekly. During hot seasons, you have to focus on deep watering.

Try to soak the group with water up to 8 inches. It will help your arctic willow plants to grow and spread their roots more deeply into the ground. But remember, don’t overwater your arctic plants. It may damage the root of the arctic willow.

Just make sure you are not letting the ground dry in between your watering routine. Naturally, arctic willows prefer wet and moist soil for their growth. Interestingly, some kinds of arctic willow can even survive in standing water.

Do Willow Trees Attract Birds?

Yes. Willow trees attract birds as they offer an excellent source of food and residence for birds.

There are numerous species of willow trees. Almost every type of willow tree attracts birds toward them. There are some reasons:

  • Willows with shrub or tree structures are an excellent option for nesting various birds.
  • Salix discolor, and Salix arctica attracts many insects and bugs. Thus many migratory and insectivorous birds come to these willow plants in search of food.
  • Weeping willows attract one type of insect named borers. This borer burrows into the trees, which eventually attracts woodpecker birds.
  • Songbirds are very partial about making their nest in the weeping willow trees. The reason behind this is the soft cottony material of this plant.
  • Willow trees have fine hairs in their body for adaptation. When wind flows, various types of seeds that are flowing with air attach to these fine hairs. Thus, Birds come to the willow plants to eat these tiny seeds.
  • Larval moths, butterflies, and caterpillars can be found easily in willow plants. Birds come to collect them as they need to feed these to their baby birds.

Also Read: What Do Reindeer Eat? Let’s Explore Their Eating Behavior

Arctic Willow Adaptations

The adaptability of this plant is quite surprising. Their adaptivity allows for such harsh climates. Some of their adaptations are

  • This plant can adapt to any soil quality. Each type of soil has a different pH, and arctic willow can adjust to this.
  • It can adapt to all types of compost-rich soils. Hence, this plant is also found to grow in drought, poor, and dry soil.
  • This plant can also stand in areas where water does not flow or move.
  • Temperatures are much lower in the northern part of the world. Their long fuzzy hair protects them from cold weather, which is around -70 to -80 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are some limitations in this plant’s adaptation capacity. Areas with high humidity are not suitable for the growth of this plant. It cannot adapt to those environments. Also, where there is excess temperature, it is difficult for this plant to grow.

Why is the Arctic Willow Endangered?

Arctic willow is mainly endangered due to climate change. However, there are many more factors endangering this plant.

Here are some reasons behind the arctic willow being endangered:

  • The growing season of Arctic willow is very short.
  • There are a lot of herbivores, animals, and insects in the arctic region. Also, due to the harsh climate, there are only a few types of plants that can grow there. Therefore, most herbivores depend on this arctic willow for their food.
  • This plant consists of a quite shallow depth root. Which may cause root damage.
  • Chemical fertility is very poor around the arctic region. The reason behind this is the amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPP) is very low there. This causes the slow or disturbed growth of this plant.
  • Most importantly, due to global warming and climate change, the weather in this region is also fluctuating. But Arctic willow is well adapted for survival in the Arctic region. Therefore, small changes in this region’s weather and climate drastically impact the life of Arctic willow.
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In a nutshell, the susceptibility to damage or death of this plant is higher than their reproduction and growth. This is the main reason why this plant is endangered.

How does the Arctic Willow Reproduce?

Arctic willow can reproduce sexually and asexually. They mainly prefer asexual reproduction over their sexual reproduction system.

Arctic Willow seedlings

When they reproduce asexually, they just start growing their branches. When the branches reach the ground, those branches also produce their roots.

Then it becomes a new separate plant. But, in this way, this plant only reproduces its clone. You won’t find any genetic differences between the mother tree and the new willow plants.

On the other hand, in sexual reproduction, they don’t produce any identical clones. Gene poles will be different between those two trees.

Mainly, when a Willow plant is well adapted to the location and doesn’t intend to move, they reproduce asexually.

How Fast does Arctic Willow Grow?

Arctic willow grows very gradually. The reason behind such slow growth is mainly the harsh cold weather.

Basically, due to climate change, their growing season is becoming smaller day by day. Also, in the harsh weather and poor fertility of the soil in the Arctic region, their growth rate becomes lower.

The rate of growth will vary with the types of arctic willow. A variant named blue arctic willow has a rapid growth rate than any other variant.

They can grow up to 2-8 feet only within two years. They take approximately 5 years to reach their full height.

How Much Sun does an Arctic Willow Need?

Mainly arctic willows need full sun for their proper growth. They also can survive in partial shade.

Arctic willow is well adapted for surviving in various weather. But they can grow fast and fully in sunny places. If the place is shaded, it can hardly grow.

Even they can survive moderately in partial shading. But the most important thing is the growth rate will keep declining with reduced sun exposure.

Arctic Willow Species: Let’s Talk About

Arctic willow belongs to the genus Salix and the species Arctica. You can find almost four hundred types of willow plants. Every single one has some sort of different characteristics from other willow plants.

You can find this willow in forests, wetlands, and the tundra area of the Arctic. Therefore, this Arctic willow has many subspecies, depending on their habitats. Some types of arctic willow are:

  • Salix arctica var. araioclada
  • Salix arctica var. brownei
  • Salix arctica var. antiplasta
  • Polunin Salix arctica var. pallasii
  • Salix Anglorum var. araioclada

You can find these types of Arctic willow in more than any other subspecies of this species. That’s why these few types are more familiar.

Is Arctic Willow Edible?

Yes! Arctic willow is edible. Inuit and Gwich’in from Bathurst used to eat parts of this plant.

It contains nutrients that are very effective for the human body. Among those, arctic willow is rich in vitamin C. Young leaves contain more vitamin C than older leaves. You can eat the internal part of young shoots that are edible by removing the outer part of the young shoots.

Even if you compare it to an orange, its young leaves contain much more vitamin C. It also has many nutritional properties. People living in the North American tundra used this plant as food to fulfill their nutritional needs.

Arctic Willow Taste

Arctic willow has a very sweet taste. As it is edible and can serve multiple nutrients, people are very willing to try them.

But the popularity of this plant among the Inuit as a food wasn’t because of its nutritional value.

Only because of its sweet taste does it become popular and familiar among them. Then comes nutritional quality, which fulfills some sort of nutritional deficiency.

Also Read: How Does a Reindeer Adapt to Its Environment?

What Animals Eat Aarctic Willow?

This arctic willow has a significant role in the ecosystem. All the animals belonging to the arctic region eat this plant. Several animals that feed on this plant are:

  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Lemmings
  • Moose
  • Rabbits
  • Voles
  • Arctic Hares
  • Shrews
  • Muskoxen
  • Muskrats, etc.

All these animals get their required nutrients from this plant. However, each animal provides nutrients from a distinct part of the plant and does not eat the whole plant. Ptarmigan eats the stem parts of plants, whereas lemmings and arctic hares feed on twigs and bark.

Also Read: What Do Arctic Hares Eat?

What is the Arctic Willow Plant Used for?

The people of the Arctic and subarctic regions of Greenland, who are known as Inuit, made this plant suitable for versatile uses.

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Here are the contributions of the Gwich’in as they live in the northwestern part of North America.

They have many uses for this plant, such as in medical uses, taking it as food because of its rich nutrition. Some important uses-

  • The twigs of the plant are used as fuel.
  • Moss mixed with suputiit flowers was used by the Inuit and Gwich’in as wicking in kudlik.
  • Used to relieve toothache,
  • It helps to heal quick bleeding.
  • This plant is full of vitamin C. Its young leaf contains 10 times more vitamin C than an orange. That’s why they took it as food and fulfilled the nutritional needs of the body.
  • Animals and birds make their shelter with this plant.
  • Arctic willow works by helping to filter the water by filtering out the contaminants.

What did Native Americans Use Arctic Willow for?

Native Americans mainly used it for medicinal purposes. Besides they also used arctic willow in making baskets and charcoal.

  • Medicinal: Native Americans mostly used this plant from ancient times as a pain and fever reliever. Because it has allicin which works like aspirin.

This is mainly one type of herbal alternative to aspirin. They used this plant as a febrifuge, antidiarrheal, hemostat, dermatological aid, and food.

  • Basket:  Native Americans used the straight shoots of this willow plant for weaving baskets. Besides, they also used to make fences, wattle, fish weirs, trellises, etc.
  • Fiber:  They also made cordage and paper with the fibers of Arctic willow.
  • Charcoal: Native American people made artist charcoal from the arctic willow. They used to use charcoal as black paint.

Is Arctic Willow a Medicinal Plant? Medicinal uses of arctic willow

The Arctic willow plant is called a medicinal plant due to its many medicinal properties. People living in North America, mainly in Northern Alaska and Northern Canada, used this plant medicinally.

  • Reduce Toothache: It is very effective in relieving toothache. The people who lived near the plant used this plant to relieve toothache.

Arctic willow contains glycosides. When you ingest it, these salicin glycosides will convert in the intestine to saligenin. Your liver will absorb this and will produce salicylic acid. This works the same as aspirin which is acetylsalicylic acid. In this way, arctic willow reduces inflammation and pain.

  • Help to stop Bleeding: It was used to reduce the bleeding quickly when the body was injured and started to bleed. These plants contain collagens. When platelets come into contact with collagen, it starts to release the coagulation factor. As a result, the fibrin clot is formatted and stops bleeding.
  • Wound Healing: It is used as a poultice on the wound, resulting in faster healing. Similarly, the plant heals wounds due to the presence of collagen.
  • Recover Indigestion: Arctic willow plants have antimicrobial properties. It recovers if there is a problem with food digestion.

This plant contains flavonoids which are gastrointestinal hormones. This will reduce the secretion of gastric acid. As a result, you will get well from indigestion soon.

  • Cure Diarrhea: Works great in treating diarrhea. Arctic willow is rich in insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber portion helps to absorb excess water, which reduces the intensity of diarrhea by slowing the transit time.

Also, insoluble fiber adds bulks in the stool, stabilizing the bowel movement. Moreover, arctic willow helps kill the bacteria that are responsible for causing diarrhea in the gut.

This plant is still prevalent in modern medical science. Maybe the medicinal properties of this plant will be expanded in the future.


1. What is special about a willow tree?

The specialty of a willow tree is it symbolizes adaptability, flexibility, and fertility. This plant is capable of withstanding strong winds and extreme weather. Also, you can take a willow branch and put it on the ground; surprisingly, this branch will grow further as a new tree.

2. Can you eat arctic willow?

Yes. You can eat arctic willow. It’s not toxic and also consists of vitamin C. Not only that, but this plant also possesses multiple medical qualities. As it has a sweet taste and huge medical benefits, you can eat arctic willow.

3. How long does the Arctic willow live?

It depends on the variety of the arctic willow. If it grows slowly, it can live up to 60-80 years. On the other hand, if it’s a rapidly growing variant of Arctic willow, it can live around 40 years. Thus, the higher the growth rate, the lesser the longevity.

4. When should Arctic willows be pruned?

You should prune it in the early spring. Besides, ensure you are not cutting the branches off during their growing season. It will just ruin its look and natural form. If you trim 1-5 branches every year, it will give a good shape to your arctic willow.


Arctic willow is the only woody earth plant that can grow well above the treeline. This fact makes this plant more fascinating to people.

Besides, people have used this plant since ancient times to meet their needs for food, medicine, and various accessories.

Therefore, it became a very trustworthy plant among the native people with every passing decade.

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