Salix alba 'Tristis'
Common Name: white willow 
Type: Tree
Family: Salicaceae
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 50.00 to 75.00 feet
Spread: 50.00 to 75.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Green
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Tolerate: Deer, Erosion, Clay Soil, Wet Soil, Black Walnut


Grow in average, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Thrives in moist soils. Avoid dry soils. Prefers full sun. Prune as needed in late winter to early spring.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Salix alba, commonly called white willow, is native to Europe, central Asia and northern Africa. It was brought to the U.S. in the 1700s by European settlers and has since escaped and naturalized in many parts of North America. This is an upright, fast-growing, deciduous tree than grows to 50-80’ tall with erect branching that typically forms a broad, loose, open crown. Bark is yellowish-brown. The species is now rarely sold, but a number of cultivars are very popular, including plants noted for weeping form and for showy red or yellow winter twigs. This is a dioecious species, with flowering catkins appearing on separate male and female trees in May. Male catkins (to 2” long) are somewhat showy, having tiny flowers with yellowish anthers and two stamens. Female catkins are smaller and non-showy, with greenish flowers. Narrow, lanceolate, finely-toothed leaves (to 4” long) are gray-green above and white-silky beneath. Leaves gradually taper at the bases. Variable fall color is usually a pale yellow, but sometimes appears as a quality yellow.

Genus name is the Latin name for this plant.

Specific epithet means white.

‘Tristis’ is a popular cultivar that is commonly sold as golden weeping willow in recognition of its bright golden yellow twigs and weeping form. Although its nomenclature is confused, it is considered to be one of the best of the weeping willows. It typically grows to 50-75’ tall with erect branching, an open rounded crown and pendulous golden branchlets that gracefully dip toward the ground. Year old twigs are yellow and pendulous. ‘Tristis’ is dioecious, with non-showy catkins appearing in April-May. Nomenclature for this golden weeping tree is quite confusing. The Royal Horticultural Society currently lists both Salix alba ‘Tristis’ misapplied and Salix alba ‘Tristis’ ambig[uous] in recognition of the fact that a number of different weeping yellow forms have been given the ‘Tristis’ name or other names now considered synonymous with ‘Tristis’ over the years.


Susceptible to numerous disease problems including blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots and cankers. It also is visited by many insect pests including aphids, scale, borers, lacebugs and caterpillars. Wood is weak and tends to crack. Branches may be damaged by ice and snow. Litter from leaves, twigs and branches may be a problem. Shallow roots may clog sewers or drains and make gardening underneath trees difficult.


Although willows are generally not considered to be good residential landscape trees, it should be noted that golden weeping willow is one of the most popular of the weeping willows available in commerce today. It has good specimen value because of its golden weeping form. It may be used effectively in moist soils along streams, ponds or other water bodies. It also can be used in low spots in the landscape where other shrubs or small trees may falter, but can be high maintenance because of its susceptibility to breakage, potential insect/disease problems, spreading roots and litter potential.