Salix niphoclada is a common willow of meadows, floodplains and shrub tundra, even occurring in alpine scree slopes in some areas of Denali. This plant is a short to medium sized shrub up to 1.5 m tall. Branches and twigs are covered in long gray hairs. Leaves are glaucous, densely hairy beneath, less so above, with a rounded tip, the blade 1-6 cm long, on a short reddish petiole, 2-5 mm long. Leaf margins are entire. Stipules are minute or lacking. Willows are dioecious (individual plants produce either male or female flowers only); the flowers are highly reduced and borne in catkins evolved for wind pollination. Catkins appear at the same time as the leaves. Pistils are densely hairy, short, and have 4 stigmas. Salix niphoclada is often confused with S. glauca, but differs in having shorter petioles, stipules, and stipes and rounded leaf tips.
Catkins and leaves develop together around late-May. Catkins are mature in mid-June (Collett 2004).
Salix niphoclada is dioecious, and insect and wind pollinated. Seeds have attached hairs to aid in wind dissemination. It also readily spreads vegetatively.
Collett (2004) documented a variety of insects that utilize S. glauca including gall-formers such as: Rabdophaga spp., Pontia sp., a tussock moth Orgyia antiqua, and a moth leaf-miner Micrurapteryx salicifoliella.
Like all willows, the fresh bark of S. niphoclada contains salicin, a precursor to aspirin and could be used as pain and fever reliever.
Salix niphoclada is an amphi-Beringian species with an arctic-alpine distribution, ranging from Siberia to Alaska, and across northern Canada from Yukon and B.C. to Baffin Island. In Alaska, S. niphoclada occurs in uplands across much of the state except is absent in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, and southeastern panhandle. In Denali, S. niphoclada occurs most frequently on the north side of the Alaska Range, with a few localities on the south side in the vicinity of Shellabarger Pass and the upper Chulitna River.
Salix niphoclada is a lowland species but is found along a wide range of elevations (155 m to 1625 m), but averaged at 792 m. This species shows preferences for flat or very steep (>28 degrees) slopes. S. niphoclada slightly prefers east or west facing slopes.