Salix caprea is well suited for phytoextraction strategies. In a previous survey we showed that genetically distinct S. caprea plants isolated from metal-polluted and unpolluted sites differed in their zinc (Zn) and cadmium (Cd) tolerance and accumulation abilities. To determine the molecular basis of this difference we examined putative homologues of genes involved in heavy metal responses and identified over 200 new candidates with a suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH) screen. Quantitative expression analyses of 20 genes in leaves revealed that some metallothioneins and cell wall modifying genes were induced irrespective of the genotype's origin and metal uptake capacity while a cysteine biosynthesis gene was expressed constitutively higher in the metallicolous genotype. The third and largest group of genes was only induced in the metallicolous genotype. These data demonstrate that naturally adapted woody non-model species can help to discover potential novel molecular mechanisms for metal accumulation and tolerance. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.