Is this a willow seedling?
I have been working on clearing out a weed-infested flower bed and have come across 2 young, woody seedlings of something that looks to me like a willow. Are those stipules at the leaf nodes? Can you tell me which willow it might be? The closest willow I know of is about a quarter of a mile away (see picture) so I'm not sure how the seedlings came to be in this flower bed!
Yes, it looks like a willow (Salix spp.).
Yes, those are stipules on the branches. This is a key characteristic in identifying the species.
There are some 250 species of willows, so it is very difficult to determine which one you have. It does not appear to be the most common willow, white or weeping willow (Salix alba); white willow has minute stipules. Yellow willow (Salix lutea) is reported in the Black Hills and has stipules. I did a search on Google with keywords willow stipules dakota and it led me to that species. This would be my first guess.
Black willow (Salix nigra) is another common willow with stipules, but I'm not sure if its range spreads as far west as Billings County. I see references to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Willow propagate readily. The seeds have no dormancy and could have blown to the area by a rain storm. The seeds will germinate rapidly in wet soil. Likewise, the ends of broken branches can sprout if they fall on moist soil.
Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University