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A shrub to about 15 ft, rarely a small tree to twice that height; branchlets downy until the second year, slowly becoming glabrous and brown or reddish brown prominently striated under the bark, the striations short and irregular; catkin-buds large, ovoid, reddish brown. Leaves obovate to elliptic, acute to subacute or rounded and acuminate at the apex, broad-cuneate to rounded at the base, 2 to 43⁄4 in. long, 1 to 2 in. or slightly more wide, upper surface hairy at first, soon glabrous, underside conspicuously net-veined, clad with a grey indumentum which may persist until leaf-fall, or largely disappear by late summer, margins shallowly and irregularly crenate or dentate; petiole stout, 3⁄16 to 1⁄2 in. or slightly more long. Stipules obliquely semicircular, deeply toothed, deciduous. Catkins appearing in early spring (sometimes in late winter), almost sessile, with a few small silky leaves at the base; scales acute, pale at the base, darker towards the apex, densely silky-hairy. Male catkins about 11⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. long, 5⁄8 to 7⁄8 in. wide; stamens two, filaments hairy at the base, anthers smaller than in S. caprea. Female catkins and flowers similar to those of S. cinerea. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 91.
Native of S.E. Anatolia, S.E. Transcaucasia and N. Persia; introduced to the Botanic Garden at Innsbruck in 1874 by Dr Polak, doctor to the Shah of Persia, and in cultivation at Kew five years later. At one time a perfumed drink was made in Moslem lands from its male catkins, which were also sugared and eaten as a sweetmeat, and used for perfuming linen. For these it was cultivated from Egypt to Kashmir and central Asia, so the epithet aegyptiaca is not so inappropriate as it would otherwise seem to be. According to Brandis, in Forest Flora of North-west India (1874), the willow gardens at Lahore, in what is now Pakistan, consisted entirely of male trees of ‘Salix caprea’, by which he undoubtedly meant S. aegyptiaca. This plantation was made during the reign of the Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh (d. 1839); the original cuttings came from Kashmir, to which S. aegyptiaca was probably introduced from Persia in Moghul times.
S. aegyptiaca is mainly represented in British gardens by the Persian garden clone introduced to Europe by Dr Polak. This is of great vigour, with large leaves and stout stems, and is abnormal in its flowers. Sometimes two or three catkins develop from a single bud; they are basically male, but often bear some female flowers, and the filaments of the stamens are often connate at the base. In a mild season the catkins may be in full flower by the middle of January. There is an example at Kew on the Palace Lawn about 12 ft high, more in width, This clone received an Award of Merit when shown from Kew in 1925, and again in 1957 when exhibited by Patrick Synge on January 22. It is easily increased by hardwood cuttings. More normal, less remarkable plants are also in cultivation.
S. aegyptiaca is closely related to S. caprea, but the wood is striated under the bark, as in S. cinerea.