Willow is their only common name. They are from the genus “Salix,” related to the soft wooded poplars. They are an old time tree, growing along the banks of the Euphrates, in parts of Asia as well as Palestine. The captive Israelites hung their harps, no doubt, on the weeping willows which grew so abundantly in Babylon. Those were the “Salix Babylonica” which are so popular today in landscaping ponds, lagoons and brooks.
Willows grow very rapidly. The common white willows are those found along most rivers all through the Midwest. They are quite useful, being used by the Army Corps of Engineers in river control work to keep river banks from washing away during floods. They are grown quickly from cuttings and branches.
I well remember one time when I bought a lawn set and two chairs made of white willow branches from a family of wood workers camped on the Kaw river near my home. It was in early spring, and after the set was placed on our lawn we had almost a month of rainy weather. I had forgotten all about the lawn set for a few weeks. You can guess how surprised I was to find that our lawn furniture had taken root where it sat in the soft earth! It even had green sprouts growing out all over it! That is ample proof that willows do root easily and quickly.
I think willows look beautiful if they are planted in proper places. One or two planted at either or both ends of a pond, or at water’s edge of a brook or lagoon, will have a cool, relaxing effect, especially if they are weeping willows. It solves a landscape problem of placing trees along water where other kinds would die. Never plant willows in rows of a dozen or so. You would certainly spoil the desired effect. Just one or two is enough, and if two are planted, be sure to put them quite a distance apart to allow each one to attain its best natural growth without crowding.
Hazard to Drains
Another mistake you should never make as it would cause you much trouble: if you are planning to plant any kind of willow tree near a drain or a septic tank drain pipe so it will get plenty of moisture, DON’T DO IT! Oh yes, the willow would grow and look fine, but what trouble the roots would cause! The roots would seek that drain pipe and cram it full. They would stop the drain from draining at all. This warning applies to willow roots, or any other tree of the poplar family.
The Indians used the inner bark of the willow for their fish nets. Today, you can buy all types of baskets for cut flower, and even wicker furniture made of willows. Willow wood makes the finest charcoal used in gunpowder. In New York state the willows were grown and cultivated especially for the basket weavers.
You can grow the trees yourself by buying a growing tree from your nurseryman. The pussy willows are known botanically as Salix discolor. The buds come out early, even late February or early March if some spring like weather comes at that time. You can force them into bloom earlier than that by cutting off twigs two or three feet in length, placing them in a jar or deep bucket of water and keeping them in a warm room until the catkins come out, all fuzzy like a frightened Halloween kitty.
I got a start of pussy willow at no cost and with no special effort on my part. In fact it was quite accidental. I was presented a nice basket of flowers for a birthday gift. The florist had placed six nice twigs of pussy willows in the bouquet. After the other flowers faded, the pussy willows still looked nice, so I placed them in a deep jar of water and kept them in bloom in a warm room. Three weeks later when I started to throw them away, I found all the lower parts had a lot of long roots on them. I certainly didn’t throw them away. I planted them in April outdoors and grew some lovely trees for many years.
by Frank Payne