Find It: A Diamond in the Rough

If you want to find willow, you should first check to see if you are in an area where willow grows. Bebb Willow is, according to Wikipedia, the species of willow most susceptible to the fungus that causes diamonds to form. So, take a look at the range map to see if you are in the plant’s range.

Willow trees love water. You will often find it in wet areas like ditches and swamps. It also loves sunshine. That’s why willow grows so well on roadsides. I can often predict when I’ll see willow while driving down the road. If there’s a dip in

willow-bush
Willow Bush (notice the fungus toward the bottom)

the road, it’s likely to be wet and there’s a good chance that willow will be growing there.

Diamond Willow is not a species, but instead it is a condition. A fungus that attacks some willow species causes branches to die. A canker forms where the branch once lived, creating a colorful and sometimes concave diamond. The tree grows away from the fungus, sometimes creating superbly deformed diamonds.

willow-leaves
Willow leaves – not the classic narrow weeping willow

The willow bushes that are most susceptible to diamonds are not the large weeping willows you see in yards or the small pussy willows you often notice in the spring. Instead, we are looking for medium-sized bushes that are often 10-20 feet tall. The leaves on these bushes are not the classic thin willow leaves, but instead a more rounded leaf like what you’d see on a fruit tree.

The willow bushes often grow in tight clumps like the one in the picture on this page. Sometimes the bark is smooth, but often in older plants there are significant vertical fissures in the bark. You will also often see lichens growing on the bark.

There are two times of the year that willow really stands out. First, there is late spring when the bushes are adorned with pussy willows. Most willow species sprout pussy willows in the spring, not just the species officialy called “pussy willow.” At this time, leaves are not in full bloom yet, so the willows really stand out.

The second time of year that is great for finding willow is in the late fall. Willows tend to keep their leaves longer than other trees. Where I live, from mid-October to early November, the willows still hold bright yellow leaves which stand out like neon signs. I’ve found willow bushes in the fall in places that I thought didn’t have any. Fall is also a great time to be outside. There are no bugs and the weather is nice and cool.

Once you have found your willow, it’s time to choose a worthy stick and harvest it!

The next step: Harvest It: Bring Home the Diamonds