10 Neat Things About Willows
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

March 19, 2017

1. Putting down roots.

Some willows just love putting out roots, among them, the beautiful weeping willow. All you need is a cutting and some soil. Be sure to push the twig or branch into the soil with the buds pointed upward. The stick will send out roots wherever it is in contact with the soil. Don't let it dry out. Two willows that do not root easily are the goat willow and the peach leaf willow.

2. Willow water.

You can make a home brew of weeping willow water, a concoction that acts as plant rooting hormone. Willows contain indolebutyric acid, a plant hormone that stimulates growth. The salicin in the leaves prevents infection. Chop actively growing tips of branches into one-inch pieces and soak them in water. If you use cold water, it may take several weeks to get a useful solution. Boiling water will activate the compound and speed the leeching to a 24-hour period. Soak cuttings of the plant you wish to root in the willow water for several hours, then plant up. You can water once or twice with a solution of the willow water to give the roots an extra boost.

3. Here kitty, kitty.

Pussy willows are a beloved sign of spring, but not all pussy willows are equal. The goat willow, Salix caprea, a native of Europe, is sometimes called pussy willow, but it gets fluffy pussies with the male flowers turning yellow and the females turning green. The more desirable North American pussy willow is Salix discolor. It produces soft, white, furry pussies. Look for the female which stays white as the male also become yellow with pollen at maturity.

4. Short little willow.

There are more than 400 species of willow (Salix) and not all are tall and upright or even medium-height shrubs. There is an arctic-alpine species, Salix herbacea, also known as the snowbed willow, that is only 2.4 inches tall, but spreads widely. As its name implies, this creeping dwarf willow is herbaceous, with rounded somewhat fleshy leaves and tiny little flowers that produce spikey seed pods. It grows in sandy locations with a succulent stem.

5. Weeping wonder.

What is more glamourous in the plant world than the beautiful weeping willow, its graceful branches trailing in a reflective pond? This is the glorious Salix babylonica, which has its origins in northern China. It is iffy in zone 3, safer in zones 4 to 9 and likes to grow along the margins of ponds or streams as it enjoys moist, well-draining soil. On the prairies, where it can be dry, there is a variety named Lace Weeping Willow which seems hardy up to zone 2b as long as it gets enough moisture. Weeping willows grow fast - under the right conditions, they can put out 10 feet in a single year!

6. Pink and pretty little shrub.

Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' is one of the prettiest little shrubs around. Native to Japan, Korea and northeastern China, this little beauty has variegated leaves of white and green with pink tips in the early growing season. It is hardy in zones 5 to 7, but a micro climate in zone 3 may see it through the winter. It grows four to six feet tall. The North American coyote willow (Salix exigua) is a shrub that silvery leaves

7. Sallows and osiers.

Willows were sometimes called sallows in Britain from the old English word, sealh which is related to the Latin Salix or willow. The word sallow was usually applied to the shrubs that had broader leaves. Osiers generally had a narrower leaf and their long flexible branches, known as withies, were used in basket work. Do not confuse this with the North American dogwood, also sometimes called osier. There is also a corkscrew or curly willow. Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa' from north eastern China.

8. Fever reliever.

Salicin is abundant in willows. It becomes salicylic acid in the human body. Salicin is very good at relieving inflammation and fevers and has been used since Sumerian times and in Assyria, Egypt and Greece. In North America, it was a staple in the indigenous medicine chest as a medicine for pain relief. In 1828, Henri Leroux isolated salicin as a crystal and in 1897, Felix Hoffman discovered that he could create a synthetically altered version from spirea. This version became aspirin.

9. Bee-friendly, butterfly benefit.

Pussy willows provide early pollen sustenance for bees. The mourning cloak butterfly depends on willow. Even starving people could make use of the catkins by mashing and eating them. 10. Useful. The list of uses for willow is very, very long including all sorts of furniture, baskets, fishing nets (one of these dating back 8,300 year has been found) and even in the making of Welsh coracle boats. It is used in Sweden as a high-energy bio-mass fuel

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