The Weeping Willow
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, 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.
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.
My Poem in the Chinese Jueju Form:
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.
Weeping Willow Reflection In Winter
© 2013 Catherine Tally