Sandbar Willow

Of the many species of vegetation found on the South Platte floodplain, sandbar willow is surely the most abundant and widespread.  This shrub or small tree spreads primarily by suckering and thus forms dense colonies on the banks and sandbars of rivers and streams; since it favors sunny areas, it is less abundant where cottonwoods shade the channel.

Sandbar willows are found throughout Temperate regions of North America and are represented by three subspecies; in the Western U.S., they are also known as coyote willow.  Easily identified by their long, slender leaves, flexible stems and dense colonies, sandbar willows are consumed by a host of mammals, including elk, moose, deer, beaver, muskrats and cottontails.  Male and female flowers, which appear in late spring, are borne on separate plants and seed pods appear by mid summer; the latter contain numerous small seeds that are consumed by riparian songbirds, waterfowl and game birds.

Sandbar willows are pioneer plants, among the first to reappear after destructive floods; indeed, they are tolerant of high water conditions and their extensive root systems help to stabilize stream banks when seasonal floods do occur.  Since flood control reservoirs now minimize that risk along the South Platte, the dense stands of sandbar willow are now of most value to wildlife, offering both food and cover for a wide variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.