Salix myrsinites

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaSalicaceaeSalixSalix myrsinites


A low, spreading shrub which grows mainly in moist or wet, base-enriched sites on mountains. It is restricted to ungrazed or lightly grazed areas. From 180 m (Inchnadamph, W. Sutherland) to 915 m (Ben Alder and Aonach Beag, Westerness).



World Distribution

European Arctic-montane element; absent from mountains of C. Europe.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 6

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 0.3

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.4

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1854

Height (cm): 40

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary


Life Form - secondary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 78

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.58

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Salix myrsinites L.

Whortle-leaved willow

Status: scarce


This low shrub grows in enriched moist or wet sites, mainly on mountains, where it is largely restricted to ungrazed or lightly grazed areas. The variety of associated species appears to reflect the wide range of soil conditions tolerated by S. myrsinites, e.g. Calluna vulgaris, Dryas octopetala, Salix reticulata and a wide range of tall herbs on base-rich mountain cliff ledges. Constant associations have not been recorded. Its sites range in altitude from 220 metres at Inchnadamph to 915 metres on Ben Alder. 

Observations of S. myrsinites plants at Inchnadamph National Nature Reserve, where some are within exclosures built in 1959, suggest that vegetative spread is insignificant and that seedling establishment is constrained by the surrounding vegetation cover. Apparently fertile but immature fruits were observed in quantity. As seedlings require predominantly bare soil and freedom from competition in order to establish (Meikle 1975), few will develop under stable conditions. Presumably the areas of bare soil and freedom from competition resulting from landslips and rockfalls on montane sites provide the conditions for reproduction by seed.

Data are insufficient to show current trends in the species' abundance and range. There is some evidence that, like S. lapponum, isolated colonies may be in decline. However, like S. arbuscula, the procumbent habit predominant among British S. myrsinites plants may render them more tolerant of grazing than S. lapponum.

S. myrsinites is an arctic-alpine, Eurasiatic species recorded from Scotland, Scandinavia, northern Russia, the Urals, Siberia and north-eastern Asia. Records from the Pyrenees and central Europe are misidentifications (Meikle 1984). For a map of its European distribution, see Jalas & Suominen (1976).


D. K. Mardon

Atlas text references

Atlas (191c)
Bean WJ
1980.  Trees and shrubs hardy in the British Isles, edn 8, IV. Ri-Z.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1976)
Mardon DK
1990.  Conservation of montane willow scrub in Scotland. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. 45:427-436.
Meikle RD
1984.  Willows and poplars of Great Britain and Ireland. Botanical Society of the British Isles Handbook no. 4.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.