1. any tree or shrub of the genus Salix, characterized by narrow, lance-shaped leaves and dense catkins bearing small flowers, many species having tough, pliable twigs or branches used for wickerwork, etc.Compare willow family.
  2. the wood of any of these trees.
  3. Informal. something, especially a cricket bat, made of willow wood.
  4. Also called willower, willy. a machine consisting essentially of a cylinder armed with spikes revolving within a spiked casing, for opening and cleaning cotton or other fiber.
verb (used with object)
  1. to treat (textile fibers) with a willow.

Origin of willow

before 900; Middle English wilwe, variant of wilghe, Old English welig; cognate with Old Saxon wilgia, Dutch wilg, Low German wilge
Related formswil·low·like, adjectivewil·low·ish, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for willows

Contemporary Examples of willows

Historical Examples of willows

  • Off to the right there was a river dark with cottonwoods and willows.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • It was indeed that of a man whom she could not see, as he was hidden by the willows.

    The Dream

    Emile Zola

  • The ferryman emerged from the willows and stepped into his boat.

    Maid Marian

    Thomas Love Peacock

  • She did not stop till she was in her Secret Place among the willows.

    The Very Small Person

    Annie Hamilton Donnell

  • Most Willows show the stipules on the young luxuriant growths.

British Dictionary definitions for willows


  1. any of numerous salicaceous trees and shrubs of the genus Salix, such as the weeping willow and osiers of N temperate regions, which have graceful flexible branches, flowers in catkins, and feathery seeds
  2. the whitish wood of certain of these trees
  3. something made of willow wood, such as a cricket or baseball bat
  4. a machine having a system of revolving spikes for opening and cleaning raw textile fibres
Derived Formswillowish or willow-like, adjective

Word Origin for willow

Old English welig; related to wilige wicker basket, Old Saxon wilgia, Middle High German wilge, Greek helikē willow, helix twisted


  1. a small town in S Alaska, about 113 km (70 miles) northwest of Anchorage: chosen as the site of the projected new state capital in 1976, a plan which never came to fruition. Pop: 1658 (2000)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for willows



Old English welig, from Proto-Germanic *walg- (cf. Old Saxon wilgia, Middle Dutch wilghe, Dutch wilg), probably from PIE *wel- "to turn, roll," with derivatives referring to curved, enclosing objects. The change in form to -ow (14c.) paralleled that of bellow and fellow. The more typical Germanic word for the tree is represented by withy.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper