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Willow-herbs Are a Mountain Joy.

Updated on August 6, 2015

Rosebay willowherb

The beautiful flowers are just opening from the bottom upwards. Photograph by D.A.L.
The beautiful flowers are just opening from the bottom upwards. Photograph by D.A.L.

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

Willow-herbs are part of the family Onagrariaceae, and are very familiar to country folk and gardeners alike. They belong to the genus Epilobium meaning upon a lobe{or pod} referring to the flowers of many species being at the end of long pods. I suppose the most familiar here in England is the Rosebay willow-herb another plant introduced  to this country that has escaped over the wall and is now a well established part of the British flora. The later herbals and wild flower books may put  this plant in the genus Chamerion. There are about nine species of willow-herbs in Britain, three of these are very common. In many countries the rosebay willow-herb grows on the rocky slopes of hills and is referred to as "Mountain Joy " a nicer name than its alternative common name of fire weed. It is known as fire weed because it is one of the first plants to colonise ground scorched by fire.

It is an erect plant which can attain the height of six foot or more. The long narrow leaves,{angustifolium means narrow leaved}  are very like those of the crack willow tree, thus this group of plants attained their common name. They are arranged alternatively along the stem, and they are numerous.

New growth

Young fresh growth of the rosebay willow-herb note the numerous foliage.Photograph by D.A.L.
Young fresh growth of the rosebay willow-herb note the numerous foliage.Photograph by D.A.L.

The rose purple petals

The rose-purple petals of the individual flowers number four.Two of these are larger than the others. The linear sepals of a darker colour can be seen between the petals. Collectively the flowers are arranged in a terminal spike triangular in outline.

The flowers are succeeded by a plethora of plumed seeds that are carried by the wind. Each plant is capable of producing up to 80.000 seeds. So many may be ripe at the same time, they can appear like a snow shower as the wind carries them away from the parent plant. Many of these seeds find their way into pristine gardens where they can become a nuisance. One man's wild flower is another man's weed. They are annoying because of their persistent nature and seem to get established in the most awkward of places such as in between paving stones in the manner of dandelion and horsetails. In common with those two plants if any part of the root is left in the soil it will regenerate new plants.

Spikes in bloom

Rosebay willow-herb can produce impressive stands.Photograph by D.A.L.
Rosebay willow-herb can produce impressive stands.Photograph by D.A.L.

The seeds

The seeds seem to be capable of germinating on even the poorest soils, thus are pioneer plants which spread very efficiently. It is hard to believe that this common plant was a rarity two hundred years ago.

The foliage is said to have a calming affect and may be infused as a tea. It was once popular but seems to have fell out of favour. The young foliage is also considered edible. The roots and leaves have demulcent, tonic and astringent properties. They were once used to treat intestinal problems.

Another common species of willow-herb is the Great willow-herb ,Epilobium hirsutum ,a familiar plant of wet and damp situations such as river banks, damp meadows,margins of lakes and ponds and ditches. The flowers of this species are saucer shaped borne at the end of long lobe like stems. The four petals are of a purplish pink colour fading to white or cream towards the center of the flower, giving rise to the country title of Codlins and Cream. {Codlins being the old name for cooking apples}.

Greater Willowherb

The greater willow herb produces flowers that are more saucer shaped. Photograph by D.A.L.
The greater willow herb produces flowers that are more saucer shaped. Photograph by D.A.L.

Scent of apples

The flowers are said to produce a scent of apples but I have never detected this. The name is more likely to allude to the flower colour. It is another plant that can attain the height of 5-6 feet tall. They also produce dense stands where they are established. The stems are erect and hairy and the foliage is arranged in opposite pairs which are spear shaped or oblong and half clasp the stem. This species should not be used in home made herbal preparations for they contain elements that detrimental to human health. They flower from June until September.

Finally our next subject is the third of the very common willow-herbs-The broad leaved willow-herb, Epilobium montanum. This is another species that may well be familiar to gardeners. It seems to pop up almost anywhere in flower beds, pots and tubs and between paving stones and other such situations. However, unlike the rosebay willow-herb this species is easily pulled out and does not pose a serious challenge to the gardener.

Broad-leaved willowherb

Broad leaved willow-herb. Photograph by D.A.L.
Broad leaved willow-herb. Photograph by D.A.L.

A plant of woodland edge

Like the rosebay willow-herb this species grows in almost any type of soil but prefers shadier aspects, such as woodland edges or clearings,hedge banks and on walls. It is a much smaller plant than the previous two species reaching a height of 80cm but usually around 60cm {2 feet}.

The flowers are also smaller being about a centimetre wide with pale pink flowers borne at the top of lobe like stalks. One more species worthy of note which belongs to this family, despite its misleading name of Enchanter's nightshade,Circaea lutetiana. {Nightshades belong to the family Solanaceae.

Enchanters nightshade

Enchanter's nightshade is a plant of shady places. Photograph by D.A.L.
Enchanter's nightshade is a plant of shady places. Photograph by D.A.L.

Foliage

The foliage is oval or elliptical with barely toothed margins. They are noticeably veined. It attains the height of 20-60cm{2feet} and may be encountered in flower from June until late August.

Comparing the leaves

The leaf on the left is from a weeping willow. The center leaf is rosebay willow-herb note the promineent midrib vein.On the right is the leaf from broad leaved willowherb. Photograph by D.A.L.
The leaf on the left is from a weeping willow. The center leaf is rosebay willow-herb note the promineent midrib vein.On the right is the leaf from broad leaved willowherb. Photograph by D.A.L.

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    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, thank you for your visit I think the name is much nicer than rosebay willow-herb. Thank you for your kind and appreciated comments.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 7 years ago from Great Britain

      ¨Mountain Joy¨ What a beautiful name for any plant. Thank you for such a useful AND beautiful hub. I enjoyed it very much.

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Varenya thank you for your kind comments much appreciated .Best wishes

    • Varenya profile image

      Varenya 7 years ago

      Hi D.A.L. I truly love this hub so full of informations, as also all your beautiful photos: many thanks for sharing! Good work!

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Suziecat7 thank you for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comment.best wishes

      SilverGenes, glad to be of help. thank you for visiting and your comments were appreciated. Best wishes.

      B, your welcome here any time. Hope to read about your inspiration soon. L.

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 7 years ago

      as always so informative, i love your work. Looking for some inspiration, of course i look through your work once more for that.

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 7 years ago

      Thank you so much. I have some of these growing behind my home but didn't know what they were :)

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great Hub. I learned so much here. Thanks.

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