Facts

  • In northern Europe the words for witch and wicked are derived from the same word as willow.
  • Willows have long been associated with loss and bitterness: in the 17th century those forsaken in love wore willow garlands; willows often appears in poems and stories about lost love (Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet drowns herself beneath one); and the bitterness of the bark was associated with grief.

Where it grows

Salix alba is native to Europe, and western and central Asia.

Common uses

While the coral bark willow is grown for its ornamental value, other species of willow have a range of important uses. White willow contains salicin, which offers similar pain relieving and anti-inflammatory qualities to aspirin. Salicin was used to develop aspirin in the 19th century.

Thanks to its fast growth, willow is burnt as a biomass fuel to generate heat and electricity. Coppicing is used to maximise the yield of a willow crop. This ancient system of woodland management involves repeated harvesting of wood from the same tree-stump and roots. The roots left in the ground stimulate rapid growth of multiple branches.

The tough, straight-grained, non-splintering lightweight wood of Salix alba var. caerulea is just the job for cricket bats, hence its common name, cricket bat willow.

The osier willow has been used for centuries in British basket-making and wicker-work industries. The very flexible young stems are also used for making hurdles and living fences. Apparently rabbits don't like the bark so an osier fence may help deter them.

Useful links

 

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