Salix x sepulcralis (golden weeping willow)
Golden weeping willow in Kew Gardens
Salix × sepulcralis Simonk.
golden weeping willow
Normally grown near water, but can also be cultivated in dry and even tropical conditions.
About this species
Salix × sepulcralis 'Chrysocoma' is today the most widely grown weeping willow. The cultivar was first made available by Späth (Berlin) in 1888 under the name Salix vitellina pendula nova. In 1908, Dode gave it its official name 'Chrysocoma'. It is an artificial hybrid between Salix alba 'Vitellana', which provides the characteristic yellow stems and frost hardiness, and Salix babylonica 'Babylon', which provides the weeping habit. This cultivar has now almost entirely replaced all other weeping willows in cultivation.
Geography and distribution
Golden weeping willow is an artificial hybrid, widely cultivated across the world.
Overview: A fast-growing tree which forms an elegant, weeping dome. The new, young growth is a rich golden colour which fades to brown as it matures. The weeping branchlets ultimately grow to a great length.
Leaves: Lanceolate, glossy green and glaucous beneath at first.
Flowers: Catkins appear with the leaves in late March until April, with both male and female flowers in the same catkin.
Original weeping willow
The original weeping willow, S. babylonica 'Babylon', first introduced to England, to Twickenham, in 1748 by a Mr Vernon, has now almost disappeared in the UK, mainly because of its limited frost hardiness. A few trees do however still survive near Twickenham.
Other weeping willows occasionally planted are Salix × pendulina 'Elegantissima', which has a similar weeping habit but lacks the yellow branches, and S. × pendulina 'Blanda', a less weeping form with more silvery underside of the leaves - it is locally naturalised.
Golden weeping willow is grown as an ornamental tree. The parent species of this hybrid, like other Salix species, have a long history of use for basketry, timber and medicine. One of them, Salix babylonica 'Babylon', was the inspiration for willow pattern crockery.
Salix × sepulcralis received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1984.
Although golden weeping willow is normally grown near water, it does equally well in dry places. Because the subtropical Salix babylonica 'Babylon' is one of its parents, golden weeping willow is remarkably heat-tolerant and can even be grown successfully in tropical gardens. It is a fairly short-lived tree and after 30-40 years large limbs are likely to break off.
The tree can also suffer from a number of diseases, scab and canker (willow anthracnose) being the most serious as it discolours the branchlets with black scars. Aphids, caterpillars, dieback, galls, powdery or downy mildew, nematodes and stem-borer insects can all be a problem.
Brickell, C. (1989). Gardener’s Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant Book. A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Kew Science Editor: Rafaël Govaerts
Kew contributors: Sustainable Uses Group
Copyediting: Kew Publishing
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: Irina Belyaeva
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