Plant of the week ~ Salix (Willow)

Botanical art illustrating the separate parts of Salix alba
Botanical art illustrating the separate parts of Salix alba

This week we are taking a look at one of my favourite trees ~ Salix (Willow). Blossoming in spring, willow is a great plant both aesthetically, for human use and as part of a wildlife garden. Let’s take a closer look below.

Cultivation & Care

Salix babylonica is often grown as an ornamental tree in parks
Salix babylonica is often grown as an ornamental tree in parks

Willow enjoys a sunny position where it can easily absorb all of those precious rays of sunshine, though it will cope with partial shade as well. As far as soil is concerned, the species favours very wet soils and can even tolerate standing water left from floods. It does not do well in alkaline soils so if you are uncertain what pH the soil is in your garden, be sure to use a soil test kit to save risking the health of the tree.

As for maintenance, the only task you may have to carry out is the removal of suckers which willows are well known for producing. These usually appear at the base of the trunk or nearby. It’s also worth noting that willow propagates very easily from just a small twig, so if you do not wish to have willow saplings popping up everywhere, be sure to collect up any twigs.  Willow responds really well to coppicing and you can make great use of the coppiced branches in crafting.

When planting a willow tree it is advised that you consider it’s planting site thoroughly and whether the roots of the tree are likely to interfere with the foundations and plumbing in the area.

Species

There are many species and cultivars of willow to choose from. Below I have included 3 species that may be of interest.

Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow)

If well maintained you can enjoy a weeping willow in even a small garden, just be sure to keep it's growth in check as they do grow rather large
If well maintained you can enjoy a weeping willow in even a small garden, just be sure to keep it’s growth in check as they do grow rather large

This species is a common sight along riverbanks, particularly in parks. It thrives by the water and looks so beautiful with its pendulous leaves blowing in the breeze at the water’s edge.

Salix alba (White Willow)

Salix alba looks truly magical when its leaves blow in the wind.
Salix alba looks truly magical when its leaves blow in the wind.

This and S. fragilis are both native to the UK. We always encourage people to plant native species over heavily cultivated varieties as these species were here first and local wildlife has evolved to depend on them. This species gets it’s name from the fact the underside of its leaves are a pale and make the leaves seem to shimmer in a breeze. This species is commonly used for coppicing.

Salix fragilis (Crack Willow)

Salix fragilis may not be of use for wood crafts but it makes up for this in its aesthetic beauty and wildlife value
Salix fragilis may not be of use for wood crafts but it makes up for this in its aesthetic beauty and wildlife value

If you are wondering where this species gets it’s name from, you need but stand on one of the twigs to discover how easily they crack. Unlike the white willow, this species spreads and the leaves are hairless.

Material Uses

Willow branches have been woven to make baskets for centuries
Willow branches have been woven to make baskets for centuries

The wood of willow has been used to make many materials for centuries.

  • Wood ~ the wood can be used to make tools, furniture, boxes and brooms, etc.
  • Branches ~ coppiced branches of willow can be used to make baskets, wattle, wicker, etc.
  • Fibre ~ fibre within the wood of willow can be used to make rope, paper, string, etc.

Other Uses

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants.  Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally and when in doubt about eating a plant you have not eaten before.

The wonderful willow has so many uses, below is just a fraction of what this delightful plant can offer.

  • Pioneer  species ~ willow is great at helping to reestablish damaged and overused land.
  • Medicinal ~ Willow has been used as medicine since ancient times, one of our popular pain killers used today is made from willow, that being Aspirin.
  • Windbreak ~ Willow trees are great at blocking and breaking up the path of wind in an area.
  • Phytoremediation ~ Willow is used in biological filtration systems to purify and clean contaminated water in an area.
  • Erosion control ~ the extensive root systems of willow make them great at stabilising the water tale in an area and are a great tree to have in place to combat flooding.
  • Edible ~ Young shoots can be eaten as a famine food, as well as the inner bark, which is ground up and mixed with flours. It is known to have a bitter taste.

Wildlife Gardening

A member of the crow family enjoys a perch in Salix babylonica
A member of the crow family enjoys a perch in Salix babylonica

Willow may have many uses for humans but it also contributes to ecosystems as well.

  • Nectar plant ~ The nectar produced by the flowers of willow are a great source of food for insects, especially bees. With them flowering in spring they are a great early food supply for our little flying friends. You will often hear the buzzing around them in spring as so many bees are eager to consume the delicious nectar.
  • Shelter ~ Wildlife makes great use of willow as shelter, especially birds and mammals, but insects will also make use of the tree as a home.
  • Hedgerow species ~ Willow is a great tree to have in a hedgerow and you will often notice them present in hedgerows around the UK.

After learning about how wonderful the willow is, why not consider planting one in your garden or green space?

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can help you create a vibrant wildlife garden for you and your family to enjoy all year round. Contact us for more information.

 

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