Salix babylonica var. pekinensis 'Tortuosa'
Common Name: dragon's claw willow 
Type: Tree
Family: Salicaceae
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 30.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Pale yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer, Wet Soil, Black Walnut

Culture

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. This species may not be reliably winter hardy in the St. Louis area, and is best grown in the southern parts of the U.S.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Salix babylonica, commonly called weeping willow or Babylon weeping willow, is a medium to large deciduous tree with a stout trunk topped by a graceful broad-rounded crown of branches that sweep downward to the ground. It grows to 30-50’ (sometimes to 60’) tall and as wide. It is native to China. Many consider this tree to have the best form of the weeping willows available in commerce. Bark is gray-black. Branchlets are typically green or brown. This weeping willow can be a spectacular specimen at the edge of a pond with its branches gracefully weeping down to touch the water, however, it is often very difficult to site this tree in a residential landscape. It is dioecious, with male and female flowers appearing in silvery green catkins (to 1” long) on separate male and female trees. Flowering catkins appear in April-May, but are not showy. Narrow, lanceolate, finely-toothed leaves (to 6” long and 3/4” wide) with long acuminate apices are light green above and gray-green beneath. Variable fall color is usually an undistinguished greenish-yellow.

Var. pekinensis, commonly called Peking willow, is synonymous with and sometimes listed as Salix matsudana. It is native to China, Manchuria, Korea and Eastern Siberia. It is very similar to S. babylonica, except it has two nectaries in the female flower rather than one.

Genus name is the Latin name for this plant.

‘Tortuosa’, commonly called dragon’s claw willow, is an upright female clone that typically grows 20-30’ tall and 10-15’ wide. As the common name and cultivar name both suggest, this tree is most noted for its twisted and contorted branches, branchlets and leaves, and it is primarily grown to display this unusual growth. The contorted branching is most easily observed in winter after leaf drop. Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ is synonymous with and sometimes sold as Salix babylonica var. pekinensis ‘Tortuosa’. Additional common names for ‘Tortuosa’ include corkscrew willow, rattlesnake willow and contorted willow.

Problems

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 the trees difficult.

Garden Uses

Dragon’s claw willow is perhaps best grown as a specimen for display of its twisted branching. It may be difficult to site in many residential landscapes.