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   Linnaeus named the Salix genus in 1753.  "Salix" is the classical Latin name for Willows.

Click for Salix nivalis in fall color.

Salix nivalis
Salix nivalis.  Synonym: Salix reticulata (Snow Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, July 6, 2005.

Salix nivalis is even tinier than Salix petrophila (shown below), seldomly towering more than an inch above the ground.  Buried in grasses of Alpine Tundra, it is, at first, a challenge to find, but one quickly learns its habitat and then it is easily and commonly found. 

Both Salix nivalis and Salix petrophila are dioecious; male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The photograph at left shows a plant with male flowers.

William Jackson Hooker named this species in his 1838 Flora Boreali-Americana from a collection made by Thomas Drummond in the northern Rockies, on one of his North American expeditions, probably the 1825-1827 Franklin Expedition.

Some floras continue to indicate that this species should be called Salix reticulata, named and described by Linnaeus, but that is a circumboreal high latitude, arctic species discovered in Labrador. There are a few (questionable) collections of S. reticulata in Colorado, but no other ones in the United States outside of Alaska. Our more southern species is, according to John Kartesz, the ultimate authority for all plant names on this web site, Salix nivalis. See the maps below.

"Nivalis" is Latin for "snow" or "of the snow".

Salix nivalis

Salix nivalis

Salix nivalis

 

 

Salix nivalis.  Synonym: Salix reticulata.  (Snow Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Columbus Basin, June 22, 2010 and Sharkstooth Trail, June 28, 2007.

 

 

 

 

Male flowers are shown in the top two photographs at left and female in the bottom. 

 

 

 

 

Although Salix nivalis leaves are typically glabrous (smooth, without hairs), most leaves of the young male plants shown at left are hairy on the top, bottom, and edges.

Salix nivalis Salix nivalis
Salix nivalis
Salix nivalis.  Synonym: Salix reticulata.  (Snow Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 7, 2004 and Lake Hope Trail, August 11, 2009.

The pronounced reticulated pattern in the leaves, the more rounded leaf tips, and the shorter stature distinguish this miniature Willow from Salix petrophila shown below.

The mature flowers of the female S. nivalis are on the left and the male on the right in the top photographs at left.  The bottom photograph shows the gall that is common on this Salix.

Salix petrophila
Salix petrophila.  Synonym: Salix arctica.  (Rock Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, July 6, 2005.

This miniature Willow (and S. nivalis, shown above) can cover large areas above tree line with sparkling pink flowers and relatively large, pointed-tip leaves.  In this picture the female flowers have matured and the seeds are maturing.  Thick, twisted, woody stems wind along the ground below the leaves.

Salix petrophila can grow to eight inches tall, but it is most commonly just two or three inches tall, so although it covers large areas of tundra, it is usually not noticed, and if noticed, hardly ever recognized as a Willow. 

Notice that the photograph shows different leaf shapes and different venation patterns in these leaves.  The leaves of S. petrophila occupy most of the photograph, but in the lower right are the leaves of S. nivalis, discussed above. The two species occupy the same habitat and are often found near each other.

Salix petrophila was named and described by Per Axel Rydberg in 1899 from a collection made by E. Bourgeau in the Rocky Mountains in 1858.

Some floras continue to indicate that this species should be called Salix arctica, named and described by Peter Pallas in 1790 from a collection in "Siberia: the lower reaches of the Ob River", but as the Pan Arctic web site indicates, that is a "circumboreal-alpine" species. Our more southern species is, according to John Kartesz, the ultimate authority for all plant names on this web site, Salix petrophila. See the maps below.

"Petrophila" is Greek for "rock loving".

Salix petrophila
Salix petrophila.  Synonym: Salix arctica (Rock Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, July 2, 2004.

Red maturing female flowers of Salix petrophila show behind the dark green leaves.

Salix petrophila

Salix petrophila

Salix petrophila.  Synonym: Salix arctica (Rock Willow)
Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Black Bear Pass Road, July 20, 2008 and U. S. Basin, July 28, 2016.

The flowers are now even more mature than in the above photograph and the catkins have exploded in a mass of fluff to carry seeds.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Salix arctica

Range map for Salix arctica, a species said by some botanists to be in the
U. S. Rockies but other experts indicate that species is Salix petrophila.

Range map for Salix nivalis

Range map for Salix petrophila

Salix reticulata

Range map for Salix reticulata, a species said by some botanists to be in the
U. S. Rockies but other experts indicate that species is Salix nivalis.