Diamond Willow


Most people are familiar with diamond willow.  Some nice waking sticks, picture frames, and other items can be made from this colorful wood.  But there seems to be some confusion as to what it is.  Occasionally someone will ask me if diamond willow is a species or whether it comes from a diseased tree.

We presently recognize about 16 species of willow in North Dakota.  One species, Salix eriocephala (formerly Salix missouriensis) is commonly referred to as Missouri willow or diamond willow.  So, end of story?  Not so fast.

Actually what most people call “diamond willow” is very likely one of a half-dozen willow species with a fungal infection of Valsa sordida or perhaps a close relative.  The fungus is a type of sac fungus that attacks some members of the willow family which in addition to willows includes cottonwood and aspen or poplar.  The fungus has not been well studied though.  The most cited reference to the cause of this interesting growth in willows goes back to an academic journal from 1958.

The disease often attacks the willow where a branch attaches to the main stem.  Cankers then form which have rather elongated ovals with pointed ends or “diamonds.” Although the bark is gray, the underlying sapwood is generally a creamy white with a light reddish-brown heartwood.  Often times a particular willow will be badly infested while other plants in the area may be quite healthy.

I noticed there are several internet sites that sell diamond bark items ranging from walking sticks to beds.  It is also available on eBay.  Prices for the walking sticks can range from $65 upwards depending upon how fancy they are.

Winter can be a good time to look for diamond willow.  When I check for diamond willow I usually cut a small piece of bark around one of the diamonds to check for color and go from there. So if you are interested making your own diamond willow walking stick or perhaps even some furniture, now might be a good time to get out and check on the local supply.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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