Origin and history – Willows comprise a large number of trees and shrubs, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. For this article, we will only cover some of the tree willows and their uses. As a result of their shallow root systems, tree willows are common riverside plants that help stabilize riverbanks with their large shallow roots. Willow is the common name for most species, but osier and sallow are the names for shrubs with broader leaves.
Description – The tree willow can grow into a large tree with an open crown. There are long, narrow leaves. Downy seeds are dispersed by wind over long distances after fluffy catkin flowers. As seeds are blown by the wind, the air becomes filled with them. Willows comprise around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs in cold and temperate climates, most found on moist soils. Willows, also called sallows and osiers, belong to the genus Salix. A leaf’s shape is typically elongated, but it can also be round or oval, and its edges are usually serrated.
Uses – The inner bark of all willows contains medicinal compounds. There are herbalists who use white willow (Salix alba) for this purpose. The trees are usually grown in pastures and pollarded regularly as well as their bark is stripped in spring or early autumn when they are 2-6 years old. Despite its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, febrifuge, antirheumatic, astringent, and anti-inflammatory properties, the bark contains salicylic acid, flavonoids, and tannins (up to 20%). The analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of salicylic acid are similar to those of aspirin.
The stomach lining is not irritated or thinned by it as aspirin does. Most of the time, in the past 200 years, basketwork would have filled the need for packing materials in place of cardboard, plastic, or plywood. For the journey to town markets, baskets were used to collect fruits and vegetables from fields, as well as to pack fish, poultry, and dairy products.
A number of willow items, including beer strainers, traveling trunks, etc., were used for transporting bulkier items like manure or rubble. Commercially, willow wands for basketry are coppiced from densely planted beds over a one-year period, but coppicing can be done on any kind of willow regardless of its location.
Generally, it is better to use shrubby willows for basketry than trees, but tree willow can be perfectly adequate as well. The timber is straight and finely grained. The heartwood is pinkish, and it is not particularly strong or heavy, but it is flexible. Traditionally used for furniture/cabinet work/inlay, paper pulp, turned articles, ship and boat building, agricultural implements, boxes, crates and pallets, shoes/clogs, toothpicks, plywood, trugs, brakes, and ply. Then there are cricket bats, of course.
Rather than using hormone rooting liquids and powders, rooting liquids can be easily made to aid the rooting of cuttings. Soak willow stems in water for 24 hours after cutting them into small pieces. Drain off the liquid and use it as rooting liquid. Freshly taken cuttings should be soaked in compost for 30-60 minutes before putting them into compost. Keeping the liquid in the fridge for a week is possible. Mash made from willow catkins was often eaten by the poor in the past. Young leaves and underground shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, as can the inner bark. Besides charcoal (used for drawing), willow is used to make living sculptures, such as domes and tunnels, woven from live willow rods.
Varieties/Cultivars Salix alba – White willow
White willow is a large European tree growing to 25m (80ft), commonly found along riversides. Despite its tolerance for most soil types, it prefers moist ones. In order to thrive, it needs full sun. Cutting is not a problem for it. It is hard to zone 2/H7.
Var. caerulea is the cricket bat willow, whose wood is still used to make bats commercially.
Salix amygdaloides – Peach-leaved willow tree to 20m (70ft) high from western North America. It is hard to zone 5/H7.
Salix fragilis – a hardy European and Asian tree reaching a height of 25 m (80 ft).
Salix laevigata – A red willow tree that grows up to 15m (50ft) in the southwestern United States, it is hardy to zones 5 and 7. The branches are reddish in color.
Cultivation – The shallow root systems of these tree species make them easy to cultivate, but they can damage drainage systems, for example. Soil with a reasonable level of moisture and full sun is ideal. Cuttings should be used for propagation. The best time to take hardwood cuttings is in winter when they are 30cm (12ins) long, although you can take them at any time. Large hardwood cuttings up to 8-10 feet in length are also available for propagating these tree willow species. If you are producing cricket bats, for instance, this is useful to ensure that the trunk is straight and free from side branches. WILLOWS, Salix spp. Deciduous, Zone 2-5, H7 Medicinal Branches for basketry. Roots sprout readily from aerial parts of the plant, and they are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to live.
Pests and diseases – The majority of trees in a diverse planting remain healthy despite a number of minor pests and diseases. Over one hundred species of aphids, including Chaitophorus and others, live on willow species, feeding on plant juices, particularly on the underside of leaves, and forming large colonies.
European & North American suppliers Europe – ALT, PHN, TPN North America: Forest tree nurseries.