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It is a deciduous shrub growing to 1–3 m (rarely to 5 m) tall, with purple-brown to yellow-brown shoots, turning pale grey on old stems. The leaves are 2–8 cm (rarely to 12 cm) long and 0.3–1 cm (rarely 2 cm) wide; they are dark green above, glaucous green below, and unusually for a willow, are often arranged in opposite pairs rather than alternate. The flowers are small catkins 1.5-4.5 cm long, produced in early spring; they are often purple or red in color, whence the name of the species (other willows mostly have whitish, yellow or green catkins).
Prefers full sun