Pros: Striking appearance, fast growth
Cons: Wandering invasive roots, not long-lived
The corkscrew willow tree (salix matsudana tortuousa), also known as the curly willow tree, is a fast-growing (ten to fifteen feet per year) tree in the willow family, with long, spiraling branches that initially grow upward more than outward from the trunk, and then go outward later. The corkscrew willow usually settles in at a maximum of about thirty feet. It has long, narrow, light green leaves, that turn yellow in Autumn. While it is a tree, the corkscrew willow often grows many shoots at its base that reach up alongside the main trunk, unless you prune it to be single-trunked. This tree will grow in many soil types, has shallow roots, will tolerate dry or very wet soil, and can handle any level of sunlight.
When we moved in 1980, one of the steps, after we settled into the house, was landscaping. I have always been interested in looking for things that are new and different and it came to trees, the corkscrew willow caught my eye. We placed our tree, which was between three and four feet high then, right at a front corner of the house, about four feet from the wall.
Our tree thrived, and the whole willowy complex soon reached the height of the eaves. Then the trouble began. I now know that the shallow roots of this tree tend to migrate upward (toward the surface) as the tree ages. If I had known this ahead of time, things might have ended differently, or we would have placed it elsewhere. As these adventurous roots did their migration, they became acquainted with our underground sprinkler system, and ruptured a line. That was repaired, but then we did the research we should have done beforehand.
We found out that this tree’s roots can be very persistent and invasive, causing damage to sidewalks, streets, and basement walls, besides what we already knew: sprinkler system lines. Despite it being a healthy, interesting-looking, attractive tree, we made the hard decision to remove it. Sadly, the root system was so complex that we could not remove enough of it, intact, to transplant it. By the way, by this time, the tree was over twenty feet tall.
Would I recommend this tree? Yes, but to someone who has the right location to plant it. It would need to be away from sidewalks, cement patios or platforms, driveways, streets, basement walls, and sprinkler system lines. That leaves areas in the middle of a yard, or along the edge of a drainage ditch or pond. If our had been transplantable, I would have wanted it along the drainage ditch behind our house. I also now know that this tree is not long-lived. That is too bad, as it is a very vital, fast-growing tree with an appearance that is very different from most trees. When you see a corkscrew willow, if you are not used to them, you would like do a double-take. Its name is not a misnomer; the branches really do spiral all along their length.