Wolf willow.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend wolf willow as a worthy addition to most* gardens, you can’t deny its good looks. Especially against a stormy sky:



Elaeagnus commutata (also known as silverberry) isn’t actually a willow at all – it’s a member of the Oleaster family and is related to buffaloberry (Shepherdia). While a beauty, it’s not an ideal ornamental in small gardens due to its invasive spreading root system, but if you have a large area with poor, infertile soil or a need for erosion control*, wolf willow may be very useful.  Proper siting is key!

You’ll find wolf willow all over southern Alberta, often in open prairie. There are quite a few of them on the hillsides high above the riverbanks in Bowmont Natural Area here in Calgary‘s northwest, and several “groves” of them in Nose Hill Park.  Bloomtime is mid-June, and boy, are they ever making a show (and smell) of it this year!  (Might have something to do with the extra rainwater).  Wolf willow flowers have a sweet scent that can be rather overpowering in large doses.


While rooting around the ‘net for some historical info about wolf willow, I came across several references to the shrub being used as decoration, food, and medicine by Native Americans.  Apparently, the berries were collected in the fall, boiled, and peeled to reveal the beautiful nutlets inside, dark brown seeds striped with bright yellow bands.  The seeds were pierced and used to make pretty necklaces often used as trade items, and they were often sewn onto garments.   (I will have to do some foraging later in the season and get my craft on!).  The berries were also mixed with animal fat and stored in a cool place to congeal, later enjoyed as a sweet.  Alternatively, the berries were cooked together with animal blood and eaten, which leads me to wonder what the berries taste like without the unappetizing additions.  (Apparently, my palate is picky).  Wolf willow bark was used to fashion baskets for transport and storage, and it was also made into a tonic to combat the symptoms of frostbite.¹

Wolf willow

Does wolf willow grow in your part of the world? Have you planted it in your garden?



  1. Here in Italy we have a similar Elaeagnus, Elaeagnus angustifolia. It has very similar foliage, the flowers which appear in early summer are wonderfully perfumed. It too, suckers, so isn’t grat in a small space.

  2. I have used Eleagnus pugens , Silverberry, or Silverthorn here in the Pacific Northwest in the US. It is not the best for gardens because of it’s invasive nature, but I would really recommend it for erosion control or use in large open spaces. The fragrance is absolutely wonderful.

  3. That’s a beautiful photo with the stormy sky. Interesting to read about this willow. I haven’t noticed it near us, although there are many types of willow down near our river.

    • I’m not sure what its distribution is, world-wide, I should try to find out. It’s quite a striking shrub, you can see those flashy silver leaves from a long distance, and you’ll never find just a single specimen – I guess because they spread so easily.

  4. I had no idea the historical significance of this common Alberta plant. Thank you for your informative research and enlightening article. Very interesting…. Thea

  5. Our local environmental college is working on a project using local native willow that helps with erosion, acts as a snow shield and can be cut and used for biofuel…fascinating how useful plants can be instead of using chemicals and plastics and oil.

  6. In southcentral Alaska, wolf willow is found along glacial river beds like the Matanuska and Knik rivers. Very fragrant in spring, like cheap perfume.

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