The goat willow is more abundant in forests than any other willow. Its range includes all of Europe
and extends far into Asia
. It grows from lowland to high mountain elevations and, unlike other willows, is an important pioneer in forests where its seedlings colonize forest clearings and felled areas. The goat willow is a shrub or small tree 3 to 10 metres high with a broad, broom-shaped crown. It reaches an age of 40 to 60 years or more. The bark is smooth and grey, with rhomboid lenticels. The twigs are stout, the buds ovoid, and the branches with their large catkins, that appear before the leaves, are popular heralds of spring, being among the first wild flowers to be sold at flower stalls. During the flowering period in March
the goat willow is a very attractive ornamental, male individuals resembling a large yellow bouquet at this time. It provides bees with their first feast of the year. The seed ripens and is shed in May
. At the base of the leaf stalk are small semiheart-shaped leaf-like bodies (stipules) which soon fall.
This tree is propagated, both in the wild and artificially, by seed, as cuttings root very poorly. It is a frost-resistant species that thrives in poorer and drier soils. The goat willow is an important pioneer tree in forestry, and animals are fond of nibbling its bark.