Willow –  Salix spp.

 Weeping Willow, Basket Willow (Osier), Fodder Willow & Tortured Willow.

 weeping willow (2)

Willows are deciduous trees and shrubs, grown primarily in moist soils in cold and temperate regions. They are fast growing, and their large, fibrous roots are very useful for erosion control and river bank stabilization. While their growth habit has resulted in some species being classed as pest species within New Zealand we will focus on several beneficial species, Weeping, Basket, Fodder and Tortured/Corkscrew. Willows are dioecious (single sex), so male and female flowers appear as catkins on separate plants. These catkins emerge early in the spring, often before the leaves.

willow flowers
Photo credit https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Flowers-of-the-female-and-male-trees-in-Salicaceae-species-On-willow-and-poplar-the_fig4_273576556 

Over summer the leaves and stems are considered to be a valuable source of fodder/forage especially in times of drought. The feed value of willow is considered to be comparable to Lucerne and with crude protein levels of 15% it is above the nutritional levels required by livestock. The tannins contained in the plants are said to assist in balancing out lush grass growth after rain, helping to prevent bloat in stock. Zinc and magnesium levels are also high in Willow leaves and these are important animal health minerals. However, sodium levels can be low in willow leaves, and a salt block should be provided if there little or no pasture available. The tree bark also considered to have good nutritional value and pollarded or coppiced branches can be fed to livestock.

Other uses for willow include shelterbelts/hedgerows, shade tree, early bee forage, basketry, wattle fences, wattle and daub house walls etc. Then of course there is the medicinal qualities, Willow bark contains Salicin which converts to salicylic acid in the human body and is an anti-inflammatory agent and mild pain reliever. Willow is in fact the origin of our modern Aspirin.

So, Willows are a hardy multi-use plant which require, preferably, full sun and moist soils, they will tolerate very wet soils and periodic flooding. But do not plant near buildings or drains as roots can be invasive. Height and harvesting can be easily managed by frequent pruning and they coppice or pollard well.

Weeping Willow – Salix babylonica pendula

Wide pendulous tree reaching 10 m. Fodder and shade. Good paddock tree. Tolerant of wet soils. Attractive to bees. Deciduous. Hardy.

Uses: Fodder, Erosion Control, Birds/Bees, Shade, Wet areas, Early bee forage, Medicinal.

Japanese fodder willow – Salix kinuyanagi

Fast growing, bushy tree to 4m.  Excellent fodder. Nitrogen content 2.7% dry weight similar to Lucerne hay. Deciduous. Hardy.

Uses: Shelter, Fodder, Hedging, Erosion Control, Early bee forage, Birds/Bees, Coppicing, Medicinal, Hedgerow.

Basket Willow/Osier – Salix viminalis

Multi stemmed shrub fast growing up to 6m. Prefers wet sites. Is also planted in small-scale water treatment systems. Used in basketry and living willow sculptures.

Uses: Fodder, Hedging, Basketry, Waterside planting, Coppicing, Early bee forage, Contaminated sites, Medicinal, Hedgerow.

Purple basket Willow/Osier – Salix purpurea

Broadly spreading, deciduous shrub reaching 2-5m. Widely utilised for basket weaving. Coppice annually to produce basket material.

Fodder, Hedging, Basketry, waterside planting, coppicing, contaminated sites, Medicinal, Hedgerow, Erosion Control.

Golden willow – Salix alba ‘Vitellina’

Broadly spreading, deciduous tree reaching 10-20m. Current year’s shoots are yellow in winter, adding a touch of colour. A cultivar of white willow which has long been used for its medicinal properties, the active extract of the bark, called salicin, is the fore runner to today’s aspirin.

Fodder, Hedging, Basketry, waterside planting, coppicing, Medicinal, Hedgerow, Erosion Control.

Tortured/Corkscrew Willow – Salix matsudana ‘tortuosa’

Fast growing deciduous tree reaching up to 20m. Grows well in wet sites and is hardy. The corkscrew like twisted branches and stems are popular in floral arrangements.

Uses: Fodder, Shade, Basketry, Floral arrangements, Early bee forage, Waterside planting, Coppicing, Contaminated sites, Medicinal.

2 thoughts on “Willows”

  1. What time of the year can you plant these I have a lifestyle block and springs come up leaving me with a wet land looking for a shade shelter tree that preferable can be planted in these places.

    1. Willows are ideal for wet areas, planting can be done from Autumn through to Spring, with bare rooted plants or poles being planted from June to August (Winter). Another tree to consider is the Black Alder / Common Alder – Alnus gultinosa and possibly the Blackwood wattle – Acacia melanoxylon in the slightly less wet areas. All are fast growing and multi-purpose, but also highly palatable to livestock so will need protecting while young.

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