Weeping Willow an Introduction to the Tree

Willow catkins

Trees and Shrubs of Britain
Trees and Shrubs of Britain

Introduction and History

Here in this article I look at the Weeping Willow along with its history uses and basic biology. Salix babylonica is the Latin name for the tree which belongs to the Order of trees known as the Malpighiales and within that order the tree is placed in the family Salicaceae, and given the Genus name of Salix..

The Weeping Willow is a beautiful exotic species that was introduced into England in the 1700's. This introduction was merely for ornamental affect for as a timber it was considered valueless. It is a tree with many legends attributed to it as we shall discover later in the text. It has been used by herbalists in medicine across different cultures and its wood employed in the production of many smaller products such as cricket and baseball bats. In carpentry it was utilized to make cabinet doors, boxes and floor timber. In England it was the wood of the White Willow that was chiefly employed in the making of cricket bats, and the old adage ' leather {the cricket ball} on willow' depicts an English summer.

The species is well known to lovers of picturesque beauty, from its habit of hanging down its long slender, branches, which made it an admiral addition to any tranquil water body, its grace well suited to such a location.

One of the theories from were the name Weeping Willow derived is the fact that in misty weather droplets of water tend to gather and drop from the extremities of the branches as though the tree is weeping {also see myths and legends below}.

It is fitting that we commence our review with a description of this graceful tree

The graceful Weeping Willow

Source

Close up of the catkins

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license | Source

Description of the Weeping Willow.

The Flowers of the Weeping Willow are unisexual, appearing with the leaves or just after, on lateral leafy stalks. The male catkins rarely seen are one to one and a half inches long. They have two stamens. The scales are ovate-lanceolate and glabrous.

The female catkins are greenish yellow, slender, compact shortly curved. The ovary is sessile, ovate,,glabrous, style short,stigmas forked, gland is broad and rounded. Catkins of both sexes occur mixed.

The fruit is a capsule, small sessile, glabrous, oblong, pale green, style short, stigmas emarginate, seldom if ever produced in this country.

The leaves are arranged alternately, and are lanceolate {lance shaped} finely and sharply serrated, rather obliquely acuminate, glabrous and dark, green above glacous beneath, three to six inches long and a half to one inch broad. The stalk is short, hairy above; stipules minute.

The branches are long and slender, hanging down almost perpendicular, slightly twisted at the nodes, pale green, The twigs are brittle the buds a very acute.The leaves will remain on the tree even into winter by which time the tree appears to have a golden appearance. The foliage becomes green as they mature and turn yellow in the autumn. Although the tree is majestic the branches are brittle and tend to be lost during high winds both small and large branches may fall.

Folk lore and myths

Nowadays the Weeping Willows are not planted near houses or other structures especially drain pipes which are easily and frequently damaged by their roving roots.New plants grow easily from cuttings provided they are kept wet and very moist until they root. They are of great use in wet ground that will benefit the owner who would appreciate the help the tree gives in land drainage by drawing the water from the land.

Weeping willows are found in Ontario, Connecticut, Alabama,Missouri, New York, Texas and Washington.

As previously mentioned this tree has many myths and legends attached to it. They derive from a mass array of sources, and with so many other species of flora the Ancient Greeks and Romans figure prominently.The trees association with life and death is rooted deep in the history of ancient times. In the east the weeping willow was planted near to burial grounds. Whereas here in the west the Yew and Cyprus with their gloomy shade supposedly supressed roaming spirits, the willow of the east alludes to grief felt for the departed and not the darkness of the grave.

It was also said to be the tree by the waters of Babylon where the captive Jews sat down and wept, a tale depicted in the popular song ' By the rivers of Babylon' made by Bony M, however, it is now generally accepted that the trees of that location were in fact poplars.

Greek mythology conveys that the Poet Orpheus received his love for music and poetry after touching the tree in a grove sacred to Persephone. The same source describes the journey of Orpheus and what he had to endure on his visit to the underworld, in an attempt to bring back his dead love! he carried willow branches he believed would afford him protection and good luck.

In times gone by the sound boxes of lyres were produced from the wood of willow. In the Victorian' language of the flowers' the 'Water Willow' depicted freedom and frankness, opposed to the Weeping Willow which depicted mourning and sadness. The tree was often included in the paintings of the 18th and 19th century which alluded to funerals.

Group of weeping willows

Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain Dedication
Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain Dedication | Source

The weeping willow and medicine

Native American Indians used to chew the bark of the Weeping Willow to cure headaches and other minor pains. Science has proved that the Salicyclic acid could be extracted and this is a major component of Aspirin, an household product used for its pain killing capability.

The weeping willow genes and varieties

The commonest cultivated species was introduced from a German nursery in 1908. records show that this was of a garden origin between a Chinese Species S.babylonica and the White Willow S.alba This impressive species was capable of attaining a growth rate of three to four feet per season and was often planted as an ornamental landscape tree.

The genus Babylonica runs through the veins of every Weeping Willow tree, however, the original parent tree is somewhat of a rarity today. Nursery men in England andthe west in general the species was tender and liable to be lost, so as a consequence they produced hybrids by crossing it with hardy native species.

In America the nurserymen preferred other crosses in particular with the Thurlow and the Wisconsin Weeping willow. The Thurlow has reddish shoots and the Wisconsin has a bluish sheen on both the shoots and foliage.

The introduction of the Weeping Willow to the gardens of the west came in the early 18th century from the Middle East. W.J.Bean conveys a story of the poet Alexandre Pope. He noticed that some packaging made of Weeping Willow was alive and asked if he could have a twig of it. he put it in his garden in Twickenham { London} where it became established ' The celebrated' Willow of his villa garden.

Although known as a landscape tree many landscape gardeners had mixed feelings for the tree. William Gulper is on record as saying " It was not adapted to sublime subjects" The Weeping Willow with its extensive water seeking root system helps to stop corrosion of river and other water body banks. Today it is not planted near buildings or other structures because of the root system which can cause foundation damage to such structures.

However, the weeping willow is a graceful, stately tree whose beauty is magnified by its reflection in water bodies of any size. Without this species, it is my opinion, the water body is lacking something, that can only enhance the beauty of such locations. It is well to mention at this point that the tree does not need to be located by water for it to thrive. So long as the roots are anchored in damp or wet ground it is indifferent to whether a water body is close by or not! Again I refer to Gulpin who said " the Weeping Willow is the only one of its tribe that is beautiful"

Willow foliage

Salix x sepulcralis
Salix x sepulcralis | Source

Weeping Willow and associated diseases

Willow scab is a fungus which is diagnosed by green and black spores on the underside of infested tissue of the foliage. If action is not undertaken in the early stages of this disease the foliage will wither and die. A bad infestation may well affect the twigs also.

Cankers--This is another fungal attacker. Black cankers can attack a tree and will eventually affect the whole tree along its limbs. As soon as these cankers are detected prune off the affected limbs immediately- a bad infection will eventually kill the tree.

Powdery mildew---this fungi {which affects many species of flora } is encountered on the foliage and along the stems. It is diagnosed by patches of white powder that may well cause defoliation if left to get established.

Advise on the treatment of all these fungal diseases can be obtained from your local nursery man.

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5 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

aviannovice,

Hi Deb, here in England,willow has been employed for centuries in the making of various articles from shopping and other baskets, to screens for the garden, and wind breaks for woodland edges. However, many species of willow are grown and it is in the main other species that used for the above items. Thank you for your visit it is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

A remarkable story. I had no ideal that the willow wood was associated with any building or craft work.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi, pstraubie, Thank you for your visit I am glad you enjoyed the hub and thank you for kind words and thoughts. Best wishes to you.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Weeping Willows are among my favorite trees. At present there are none in my yard but I hope to have at least one. There wispy leaves and branches offer a kind of magic to the yard.

Angels are on the way to you this morning. ps


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Weeping Willows are among my favorite trees. At present there are none in my yard but I hope to have at least one. There wispy leaves and branches offer a kind of magic to the yard.

Angels are on the way to you this morning. ps

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