The Weeping Willow
Sensuous Willow, a Jueju poem
The trembling silvery leaves shiver.
Limbs bend with supple ease.
The breeze advances, then retreats
In an endless tantalizing tease.
Catherine Tally 2013- all rights reserved.
The weeping willow, Salix babylonica, was brought to the Western world from China in the 15th century. It gets its genus name from the Celtic word sallis: "sa" meaning near and " lis" meaning water. The species name babylonica originates from Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow trees we hung our harps." The trees were actually poplars, but the botanical name still stands today whereas the Bible passage has been corrected in some modern versions.
Like all willows, the sap from the tree's bark contains salicylic acid which is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. References to its medicinal properties go back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and North America. The white willow, Salix alba, is best known in the development of aspirin and its more modern derivatives. Willow bark is still used around the world today in herbal formulations.
This beloved shade tree has a short trunk and long, graceful, weeping branches. Willows grow best where there is ample water and were often planted near ponds and rivers where their intertwining roots could brace the banks against the erosive action of the water.
In spite of its visual appeal and popularity, the aggressive nature of this tree makes it a poor choice in the residential landscape where its roots will invade sewers, septic tanks, and any water lines. The tree's ability to easily sprout from broken branches and fallen twigs makes it a very invasive species, and one should carefully consider these drawbacks before choosing this tree to plant at home.
Willows are fast growing. This tree can gain 10 feet in a year until it reaches 30-50 ft. in height and 20-40 feet in width. Although deciduous, it offers a long season of beautiful foliage. Often the first to leaf-out in spring and the last to drop them in fall, it is a wonderful shade specimen.
It is important to thin the canopy each year as poor air circulation can bring pests and diseases. Also, the brittle wood can easily split if the limbs get too heavy.
Weeping willows are prone to insects and diseases, so it is important to keep up regular maintenance and not allow the tree to experience stress.
It needs 4-6 hours of full sun and plenty of water. Growing them along a natural water source is best, so they don't invade plumbing. Feed in the spring when growth is active with a balanced slow release fertilizer like Osmocote.
Being vigilant about pests with visual checks is very important and so is regular pruning in the late winter when the tree is dormant. The most common pests are Gypsy moths whose hungry larvae can quickly strip the leaves and leaf sucking aphids and scale. Both are easy to control. Powdery mildew and rust can also be handled with pruning for better air circulation and a simple fungicide. Both show up with wet weather and humidity. More damaging are scab cankers and borers which can kill the tree if ignored. They require immediate treatment and are best handled by ISA certified arborists.
Pruning the trees when young is always the best practice since it is easier to remove spindly branches and shape the tree for strong future growth when it is small. Choose a good central leader and remove competing branches for even spacing. Low growing branches should be removed before the tree matures.
Pruning a mature tree again involves the removal of spindly growth, branches that shoot upwards, and those that crowd out or cross the primary growth. Use clean and sharpened tools and cut as close to the main as possible. Brittle branches can shear off under the weight of excessive growth.
Weeping Willow Reflection In Winter
Here in the West we equate the weeping willow with mourning and sadness, often seeing it in cemeteries and memorial parks. The trees are actually planted there as symbols of rebirth and immortality, significant in Eastern philosophy. Willows are also associated with the water that flows nearby and the moon's influence upon it. They are believed to be enchanted, evoking emotions and bringing psychic clarity, and have been revered in pagan celebrations since ancient times. The willow symbolizes femininity and the springing forth of life.
Regardless of symbolism, weeping willows are beautiful trees, shimmering and softly hushing our concerns with each breeze. What a perfect place to settle beneath with a journal or to ponder life's mysteries on a moonlit night! It's no wonder they have inspired artists and poets for centuries.
© 2013 Catherine Tally