Grey sallow (Salix cinerea)

Also known as: Wild pussy willow

Grey sallow, also known as pussy willow, is considered one of the Australia’s most invasive willow species. It is a serious environmental weed of rivers, streams and wetland areas.


How does this weed affect you?

Grey sallow is the only willow species known to invade non-riparian habitats. Provided there is sufficient soil moisture available, grey sallow can rapidly form dense stands in a variety of environments. It has invaded riverine and wetland habitat through to pristine alpine regions. Grey sallow can remain relatively stable in size for a long period of time, and then experience a population explosion under the right conditions.

Grey sallow affects riverine health and stream bank stability. It does this by; crowding out native species, spreading its large root network into the water, taking up large amounts of water and eventually diverting the natural flow of water.  The annual autumn leaf-drop can also affect water quality by suddenly increasing organic matter and nutrient levels.

Where is it found?

Native to Eurasia and northern Africa. Grey sallow has become a weed in New Zealand and the USA. Originally planted, along with other willow species, for erosion control, stream bank stabilisation and windbreaks.

Infestations of grey sallow occur throughout many river systems of Tasmania, eastern and central Victoria and the Tableland regions of New South Wales. Small localised infestations occur near Perth and Adelaide.  

How does it spread?

Grey sallow reproduces by seed and vegetatively from detached branches and twigs that take root. Most spread is by seed. A female tree produces thousands of light fluffy seeds each year that can travel by wind and water. Unless conditions are right (wet, bare ground in full sunlight), seeds will not germinate. When conditions are right, mass germination events can take place resulting in thousands of seedlings in one season.

Stem fragments and twigs break off and travel many kilometers downstream. Broken twigs develop new roots, resulting in new infestations.

Grey sallow is able to cross-pollinate with other willow species, forming hybrids. Currently two subspecies of grey sallow are known to exist—Salix cinerea subsp. cinerea and Salix cinerea subsp. oleifera.


Flowering occurs in spring, with flowers only lasting 2–3 weeks. If conditions are right, germination of dispersed seed begins in late spring and extends throughout the summer. New season leaf growth occurs after flowering.

What does it look like?

Grey sallow is a deciduous tree or more commonly a large spreading shrub. The canopy of grey sallow has a characteristic dome shape. As a shrub it commonly grows 1–2 m high and wider than it is tall. As a tree it can grow to 12 m high.


  • many upright stems extend from the base
  • tips may slightly droop when mature
  • flexible at the base and hard to break
  • young twigs and branches are dark reddish-brown in colour
  • hairy when young, becoming hairless with age
  • long visible ridges present when the bark is removed


  • dark grey to dark grey-brown in colour
  • smooth when young becoming fissured with age


  • 2–7 cm long and 1.5–3.5cm wide
  • generally oval with a short, pointed tip
  • dark green above, blue-green below
  • initially hairy on both sides, remaining hairy underneath
  • emerge after flowering


  • long slender, cylindrical catkins—a stalk of many petal-less flowers
  • catkins are either male or female
  • male catkins—golden yellow, 1.2–3 cm long and 1.3–1.8 cm wide
  • female catkins¬—green, 1.2–3 cm long initially then elongating up to 11 cm, 1.3–1.8 cm wide
  • an individual plant can have male catkins, female catkins or both


  • a capsule
  • splits into two
  • 5.5–9 mm long


  • small with long silky hairs


Preferring cool, temperate climates, grey sallow will grow at various altitudes, provided the location is sunny and seasonally waterlogged. This includes riverine habitats, wetlands, swamps, coastal dunes, wet forests and boggy alpine regions. It is frost tolerant and grows in all soil types that are either neutral or acidic. Grey sallow will invade disturbed and undisturbed areas.


CABI invasive species compendium online data sheet. Salix cinerea. CABI Publishing 2011. Accessed August 2014.

Holland Clift, S and Davies, J (2007) Willows National Management Guide: current management and control options for willows (Salix spp.) in Australia. Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Geelong.

Holland Clift, S (2008) National willows resource kit, resource sheet 2: willow identification, an essential skill for effective willow management, Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Geelong.

Hosking JR, Sainty GR, Jacobs SWL & Dellow JJ (in prep) The Australian WeedBOOK.

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Whenever implementing control measures of grey sallow close to a water course, careful planning and management is essential to ensure there is minimal to no damage of the site.

Mechanical control

Small seedlings can be hand pulled from the ground. Mechanical control using large machinery on mature plants is not recommended. Broken branches and twigs can become pushed into the ground; allowing new plants to grow and a new infestation emerge.

Machinery is often used in combination with herbicide control. When using the cut stump method, fallen trees need to be moved away from the water course. Plants killed using a stem injection method may also need to be removed.

Herbicide control

Herbicides registered to control woody weeds are effective in controlling grey sallow. When plants are located in and around water courses, use only herbicides registered for use in aquatic areas.

Methods of application include foliar spray, cut stump and stem injection. These control measures can be used at any time of the year. Only use foliar application on plants under 2 m tall with clean foliage. Silt on the leaves can reduce how much herbicide the plant uptakes.      

Follow up control

All control efforts will require monitoring and follow up on any regrowth from stumps, broken stems and seed. To be effective, grey sallow control is a long term program.

Biological control

The willow sawfly is not known to feed on grey sallow. 

Herbicide options

Contact your local council weeds officer for control advice for Grey sallow (Salix cinerea).

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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
All of NSW Prohibition on dealings
Must not be imported into the State or sold
Greater Sydney Regional Recommended Measure*
The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
Murray Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify local control authority if found.
North Coast Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify local control authority if found.
Riverina Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify local control authority if found.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfill the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW Invasive Plants and Animals Enquiry Line on 1800 680 244 or send an email to

Reviewed 2017