Wolf willow

Wolf willow is not a willow at all, but is a cousin to olive trees. The name's origin is lost in history; perhaps some prairie denizen who appreciated alliteration coined a beauty and it is here to stay. A signature plant of the northern prairies, its mind-stopping scent takes prairie folks back home. Just ask Wallace Stegner; his description of coming home to the family farmstead in southern Saskatchewan fifty-plus years after his childhood is reminiscent of wolf willow.

It's a tough native with silvery blue leaves, and small annual yellow flowers with an amazing scent. You will either love it or not. These shrubs can get quite tall. Ten feet is not uncommon in maturity. I have favored a native garden for some time and feel that the wolf willow has to be included, but they thrive on the dry prairie, expanding into the grass through time. They are as tough a plant as you can find, and will have no trouble at all colonizing your garden, just like falling off a log. Ruthless cultivation and cutting back is my preferred method of control. Sounds tough, but necessary. This prairie ruffian needs constant guidance with his manners. It is worth the trouble, though; the color and early summer scent are priceless.

Another name not in regular usage is silverberry. This refers to the fruit, which has a sweet mealy flesh, edible and, well, strange. Inside is a beautiful seed, once used as a bead. The size of an XL grain of wheat, it has alternating brown, green and yellow stripes.

(Photo credit: “Silber-Ölweide (Elaeagnus commutata) 5824" by Hedwig Storch, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.)