Species Profile

Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow

Scientific Name: Salix brachycarpa var. psammophila
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: Saskatchewan
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2000
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow

Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow Photo 1



Plants of the Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow are short, stiffly erect shrubs, 90 to 120 cm high, with grayish, erect or spreading branches. The roughly oval-shaped, flat leaves are either stemless or with short stalks less than 2mm long. The leaves are 1.5 to 3 cm long, have rounded or heart-shaped bases, and do not have serrated edges. Both their upper and lower surfaces are covered with dense, silky, greyish-white hairs. The catkins consist of clusters of flowers borne in spikes. At the base of each catkin is a scale-like bract. The seeds bear tufts of cottony hairs. This species is dioecious (has separate male and female plants).


Distribution and Population

The Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow is endemic to (found only in) the Athabasca Sand Dunes of northwestern Saskatchewan. It occurs as scattered plants throughout most of the dune fields. Although no studies have been done on population size and trends, the population is believed to be stable.



This willow occurs on large, active sand dunes, primarily on the crests, leeward slope ridge-lines, moister depressions and in dune slacks. It may also sometimes be found next to the dunes on the broad sandy beaches of Lake Athabasca.



In early spring, the catkins appear with the leaves. Because this willow is dioecious, self-pollination is impossible. The flowers are mostly insect-pollinated, and so are scented and secrete abundant nectar. Flies and bees seem to be the main pollinators, but wind pollination may sometimes also occur. The seeds are specialized for wind dispersal; they are light weight and have tufts of fine hairs. Seeds germinate best in the wetter parts of the dunes, and so this is where seedlings become established. This willow reproduces by seeds, but some branches that become buried in the sand can root and subsequently branch. It is believed that this species sometimes hybridizes with other willows in the area.



Although the dunes occur in a remote area, threats to the willow from potential increased public accessibility to the dune fields include trampling and habitat disturbance by sight-seekers, eco-tourists, and various forms of recreational use of the dunes (e.g., dune buggies, motorcycles).



Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The entire range of the Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow is within Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Wilderness Park.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

1 record(s) found.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for Multiple Species of the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Canada (2013)

    This management plan addresses a group of seven plants which are listed as species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and which are found in the Athabasca Sand Dunes of northern Saskatchewan: Large-headed Woolly Yarrow, Athabasca Thrift, Mackenzie Hairgrass, Sand-dune Short-capsuled Willow, Felt-leaf Willow, Turnor’s Willow, and Floccose Tansy. The Athabasca Sand Dunes is a complex of active and stabilized dunes on the south shore of Lake Athabasca, in the 1925 km² Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park which is located in the northwest corner of Saskatchewan. These plants are endemic (i.e. found nowhere else) to the dune complex, with the exception of one reported location of Felt-leaf Willow in Nunavut, one reported location of Mackenzie Hairgrass in the Northwest Territories (both under review), and a few observations near to the dunes on the shores of Lake Athabasca.