Willow• GAELIC NAME: Sáille,• LATIN NAME: Salix• COMMON / FOLK NAMES: – Sally, – Osier – Wicker, – Withie, With or Withy
Willow• PLACE OF ORIGIN: Europe - Asia, temperate zones. Also grows across Canada and North America.• HABITAT: Wet soils along the banks of rivers. Open areas - does not like shade.• DESCRIPTION: Can grow to a height of 15 to 21 m in moist soils. Easily grown from cuttings, can be coppiced and will grow quickly again.• FLOWERING PERIOD: Leaf buds appear early spring. Catkins appear in late spring to early summer.• POLLINATION: Wind and insects.• SEED DISPERSAL: Wind and Water.
Willow• Ten thousand years ago, the last ‘ice age’ ended.• After the ice had melted, the landscape was completely barren.• Slowly plant life re-colonised with lichens and mosses first, gradually being replaced by grasses and other flowering plants and trees arriving later.• Willows were among the first of our native trees to appear on the landscape with dwarf varieties being seen eight or more thousand years ago.• As conditions for plant and animal life improved, larger willows spread, especially adapted to colonising the boggy ground of vast river valleys.
Willow• Willows are so easy to grow. Some native species can grow up to 2 metres in six months!• All you need to do is first find a willow and cut off a piece of the previous year’s growth. This will be a branch as thick as your finger (or thinner) and with smooth bark. You only need a piece the length of a new pencil (c20cm).• Put into the ground, pushed into a flower pot or even left in a jar of water and it will produce white roots. It does not even matter which way up you put the piece of willow!• The fastest growing species is common osier, but almost any species of willow will grow easily from a cutting. Cutting and harvesting the regrowth every few years is known as coppicing.
Willow• Willows are fascinating trees and are very valuable to wildlife. In Britain it is equaled only by oaks for the variety of insects and animals it supports.• There are more than two hundred species of insect that are found only on willows, and where there are lots of insects there will be birds to eat them.• Many willows grow along the banks of rivers so the insects often fall into the water, where fish feed on them.• Their roots help stabilise the banks of rivers and stop them being washed away.• They also cast shade on the river and create hiding places for fish.
Willow• Just as wildlife depends on willows, so do people.• We use them for many different purposes.• Red Indians used to tie strips of willow bark around their heads if they had a headache! Crazy people, but were they?• Willow bark contains a chemical called salicin and salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, was prepared from salicin. So a strip of willow bark was as good as a trip to Boots for the native Americans.
Willow• There are thousands of varieties of willow, each with special attributes such as coloured bark, contorted stems or unusual leaf shapes.• The different varieties take different many forms, from the traditional cricket bat willow to alpine bushy varieties. Leaf shape is also variable, with many willow having the typical long slender leaves, but some producing broader or contorted leaves.• Bark colour varies from gold through to yellow and green to dark purple.• Willow is cheap and easy to establish from cuttings.• It is grown in osier beds and coppiced or pollarded at regular intervals.
Uses for willow• Willow has been used for a variety of purposes over the ages and all parts of it have their uses. The trunk, branches, root, bark, twigs, leaves and a few interior substances. From Iron Age man weaving hurdles to the middle ages when willow bark was chewed for pain relief. The Celts considered it sacred. It has been used medicinally, as a dye plant, to make charcoal and as a light timber. The Dutch traditionally make their clogs from willow wood.• The wood is good for turning and Celts made their chariot wheel spokes, and Gypsies their clothes pegs, from it. Romans used it to reinforce steep soil embankments.• The bark was used to make a reddish-brown dye, for tanning leather and as fodder for livestock.• Some of theses uses are no more than historical interest but the wood is still prized for the making of cricket bats.
Commercial uses for willow• Wood chips for on-farm heating and gasification• Fast growing wind breaks on upland farms• Cover for pheasant shoots• Cut rods used for river bank support• Biofilters for farm run-off such as sheep dip and cattle slurry• Biomass for wood burning power stations• Woodchips for paths and horticultural mulch use• Basketry, hurdles and living sculptures
Uses for willow• The timber of willow is light and not durable, so it is not suitable for use outside such as in a fence post.• Uses for willow wood include coracle frames (Welsh boats) and charcoal manufacture.• The bark can also be used for tanning animal hides to make leather, as it contains tannin.• Willows ability to absorb shock without splintering is still utilised in the making of cricket bats and stumps (note also the similarity between wicket and wicker).
Uses for willow• Willow gives a soft but light and tough wood with a resistance to splintering, well suited to a diverse range of uses - polo balls, steamer paddles, tool handles, boxes, milkmaids yokes and artificial limbs such as wooden legs, and artists charcoal.• The major timber product is the cricket bat which is made from the variety Salix Coerulea and then only from the female tree.• Charcoal made from ‘Crack’ Willow is used in gunpowder.• Black Willow is good for furniture, harps, millwork, cabinets, doors, barrels, boxes, toys, baseball bats, and pulp.
Uses for willow• Today willow is being used for ‘biomass’ production and forms a renewable energy resource.• Fast growing willows are planted in fields where they produce lots of shoots as thick as a wrist in about 5 or 6 years. These are harvested, made into wood chips that are burned to heat water that in turn powers turbines to produce electricity.• After harvesting the willows just grow again so that they can be harvested again after 5 years or so. As they grow they ‘lock-up’ carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (an important green-house gas).
Uses for willow• The pliant stems are used to make baskets and wickerwork’.• In Neolithic times they were used to make the walls of houses (daub and wattle).• Willow rods were also used as thatching in European traditional homes.
Uses for willow• Some willows grow thin pliable branches and these are used for weaving into fine baskets or more heavy objects such as fishing creels lobster pots or livestock and fuel baskets.• Willows were grown especially for these uses in ‘osier beds’ that were harvested annually to provide lots of thin ‘rods’ of willow.• Willow is used to make ‘living’ screens, windbreaks and rustic garden fencing.
Uses for willow• Basketmaking is an ancient craft. Woven material of some sort was known to the most primitive of tribes.• Baskets were used in agriculture, as seed containers, for gathering and as winnowing fans.• Baskets as containers for fruit and vegetables - known by names - like flats, rips, hampers, pickers, sieves, strikes or peck cobs. Fish containers such as herring crans and cockle flats - skeps for textiles, laundry and other delivery baskets and then baskets for hoisting coal, rubble and minerals. These were all sturdy and functional and probably made in the area where they were needed from local willow. Fine willow was used to make shopping baskets, clothes baskets, babies cribs and sewing and knitting baskets.• It was used to support the medieval harbour wall at Dover, to carry building materials and even as part of the buildings themselves - Winchester Cathedral was found to have been built entirely on a bed of willow.
Uses for willow• Large willow trees make great ornamental or shade trees.• Closely planted willow is used to protects riverbanks from erosion, creates buffer zones and dries the soil in soggy / flooded gardens.
Uses for willow• From some date before 1066 and up until 1826 when a sum of money was paid into the Exchequer the amount was recorded on a stick of willow by cutting notches to represent pounds, shillings and pence.• This stick was then cut into two and half given as a receipt.• To be a valid record both the grain and the pieces had to match; obviously a successful method to have survived over 800 years.• When this tally stick system was abandoned in 1826, the fire lit to burn the sticks got out of hand and damaged the Houses of Parliament.
Medicinal uses• Country folk have been familiar with the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism.• Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant. From this the worlds first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin.
Medicinal uses• On a herbal level, willow bark has been used for its pain-relieving qualities for at least 2,000 years.• Native Americans chewed or boiled a tea from the willows leaves or inner bark to relieve fever or other minor pain like toothaches, headaches, or arthritis. The willow is often given the nickname "toothache tree".• Sallow bark tea is recommended for indigestion, whooping cough and catarrh.• It can also be used as an antiseptic and disinfectant.• A decoction can be used for gum and tonsil inflammations and as a footbath for sweaty feet.• Willow bark is used to treat rheumatic conditions, gout, heartburn, to stop internal bleeding, gargle for sore throats, wounds, and burns.• Used to disinfect bandages. It is a good eyewash, and if taken orally will clear the skin and face of blemishes, or applied to hair for dandruff. Its flower essences will remedy bitterness and resentment.
Magical usage• Willow is closely linked with a lot of folk lore due to its unusual or ‘magic’ properties.• Most willow species grow and thrive close to water or in damp places, and this theme is reflected in the legends and magic associated with these trees.• The moon too recurs as a theme, the movement of water being intimately bound up with and affected by the moon. For example, Hecate the powerful Greek goddess of the moon and of willow, also taught sorcery and witchcraft, and was a mighty and formidable divinity of the Underworld. Helice was also associated with water, and her priestesses used willow in their water magic and witchcraft.
Magical usage• It has a powerful feminine yin energy. Can help a person get in touch with their subconscious feelings and desires.• The words “willow (wicker)” and “Wicca” are thought to be derived from the same root meaning “to bend”, or “to be pliant.”• The Willow wand can be used to banish long- held grief. It is also a favourite wand of poets and those seeking inspiration.• The willow muse, called Heliconian, was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. He was also given a lyre by Apollo, and it is interesting to note that the sound boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood.
Magical usage• Used for love, protection, healing, and peaceful magic.• Used to create loyalty, make friendship pacts, treaties, or alliances.• Used for intuition, knowledge, gentle nurturing,.• Its leaves are used in love attraction sachets.• Used to dowse for water (underground), earth energies, and buried objects.• Placed in homes, it protects against evil and malign sorcery.• The Willow can be used to bind all spells for greater efficacy.
Magical usage• Carried, willow wood will give bravery, dexterity, and help overcome the fear of death.• If you needs to get something off your chest or share a secret, confess to a willow and your secret will be trapped.• Willow wood is good for magical harps.• Good for planting and lining burial graves for its symbolism of death, protection and rebirth.• If you wants to know if you will be married, on New Years Eve, throw your shoe or boot into a willow, if it doesnt catch in the branches the first time, have eight more tries, if successful, you will wed.
Willow lore• Christianised use of willow to symbolise grief probably originated with Psalm 137: – By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow-trees we hung up our harps.• Biblical scholars say these willow-trees were probably Euphrates poplar and not weeping willows (Salix babylonica).• During the 16th and 17th centuries the association became particular to grief suffered by forsaken lovers, who also adopted the custom of wearing a cap or crown made of willow twigs and leaves.• By the nineteenth century illustrations of weeping willows were commonly used as ornaments on gravestones and mourning cards.• Willow boughs were also used to decorate churches on Palm Sunday instead of largely unavailable palm leaves.
Living willow structures• Today the weaving of willow is enjoying a resurgence, and is being applied to novel situations such as landscape sculptures, outdoor seating and childrens play huts. All of these are being made from live cuttings, grown in situ, to be woven and sculpted into living structures, bringing together willows vitality and utility to enhance new, often urban, settings.
Living willow structures• Living willow structures and sculptures such as domes and tunnels are easy to make. It requires a little skill and lots of imagination.• Living willow fences, fedges, are an attractive alternative to conventional fencing.• Some specialist companies construct willow walls, living willow hurdles filled with soil which make a solid structure with the added bonus of acting as a shield against noise and pollution.
Living willow structures• Willow will survive almost anywhere. It will tolerate shade, but grows best in bright sunshine, and will grow on moist, dry or fertile sites as well as in impoverished or polluted soil. Willow does not need fertiliser to grow successfully.• Almost any type of willow can be used for living willow structures, but species that produces long straight rods are easier to use for large structures.• Ideally use two-year-old rods as uprights, and one-year-old rods for weaving the structure. However, one- year-old rods are the easiest and cheapest to obtain, and although they are thinner, they are still very strong and soon grow into sturdy uprights.
Equipment required• Willow rods• Weed suppressing membrane such as a woven geotextile or black plastic• Metal pegs to hold down membrane• Crowbar or strong metal stake to create holes - a lump or sledge hammer if the ground is hard• Plastic ties or old nylon tights to tie in willow weave
Creating a fedge• Decide on the size and shape of your fedge• Mark it out with sticks, sand or landscape spray paint.• Lay and peg down the weed suppressing membrane. The willow is planted through this.• Plant uprights every 20-40cm (8-16in). Use the crowbar or metal stake to make holes through the membrane and into the ground. They need to be 30cm (12in) or more deep.• Next, plant the weave. Plant the rods diagonally between the uprights, two planted between each upright. They will cross at the bottom and continue to cross the other diagonal rods and uprights until they reach the top of the structure. They dont need to be woven together until you finish the top of the structure.
Creating a fedge• To finish off, weave and plait one-year- old rods along the top and tie them in where necessary. These horizontal rods will eventually die. By the time they are too brittle to be structurally sound, however, new willow growth will have been tied in to secure the structure.• Be creative and undulate the top of your fedge. Make holes and windows in it, be imaginative and follow your fancy!
Tunnels• Create two fedges running parallel.• Essentially the same principles apply except that the tops of the uprights are tied together to form a series of archways.• Rods can be woven or tied into the apex of the tunnel. Otherwise it can be left as an open structure and filled in with new growth over the following years.
Domes• To create the basic structure three- and two- year-old rods are useful because of the height they give.• Plant the three-year-old rods to create the main skeleton of the structure.• Decide where you want your openings and doorways. Place the rods at each side, rather like gateposts. Tie the tops together, creating a sort of wigwam.• Use the two-year-old rods as uprights and one-year-old rods as the diagonal weave. The top of the dome will be open to begin with. You will gradually close up the gap when new growth can be woven and tied in during winter maintenance in the following years.
Maintenance• Your living willow structure will evolve into new and exciting forms over its lifetime; but to make this happen it is essential to maintain the structure during the winter - new growth needs to be tied in or pruned right out.• Always plant in the winter. Water occasionally if there is a dry summer in the first year.