Dragon Claw Willow

Dragon Claw Willow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dragon Claw Willow in Winter (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Sounding like something straight out of a medieval tale, and looking like something from a Tim Burton movie, the dragon claw willow was a curious, yet welcome, addition to my garden.  After a severe hurricane took down two established locusts in 2011, I was left with a very unstable stream bank to contend with.  Luckily, I stumbled upon these two intriguing shrubs at a private plant sale, where I was assured they would not only grow quickly, but be tolerant of the tangle of existing roots I planned to plant them with.  Indeed, the young willows are quite content in their new location . . . as they grew over six feet tall in their first year!   

Dragon Claw Willow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dragon Claw Willow’s curious branches (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Salix babylonica, commonly called dragon claw willow, is native to Northern China and content in zones 6 – 9 (although I am in 5, with no adverse effects so far).  It prefers a sunny and moist setting, but will take hold under more adverse conditions, as experienced in my garden location.  During the spring, summer and fall, it looks like any other common willow; smaller green leaves that flutter in the wind, and an open, free spirited form.  But in the winter, the veil comes off and a new persona is revealed; one of bizarre contortions, twists and spirals.

Dragon Claw Willow's spooky branches in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dragon Claw Willow’s spooky branches (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

While many of the branches come up relatively moderately and unassuming, random curled limbs mingle in with a thicker, flattened profile that gives this unusual shrub a very interesting, somewhat spooky appearance.  Similar to other willows, the stems have a coppery-red hue that is very pleasing in the quieter winter landscape, while complementary to other plants or evergreens.

Dragon Claw Willow fills in around Stump in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dragon Claw Willow fills in around stump (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

My only words of caution are the potential for this willow to get out of hand.  Keep it far from any septic fields, and prepare to prune it hard to keep it at a moderate size.  Or, give it ample room and see how big it grows for you . . .

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