Varieties of willow (genus Salix) have been growing by some estimates for 70 - 135 million years. Perfect specimens of cretaceous honey bees have been found embedded in tree resin from some 90 million ago, and would have thrived on the nectar and pollen provided by willow and in turn pollinated and supported these ancient plants. Managed as a utility material for centuries willow grows in almost all parts of the world and now some 1500 hybrids and cultivars of willows grow with significant variations in size, form, bark, leaf and rod color
If you are new to willows, you will discover a great deal of excellent information online addressing the history, cultivation and use of this unique species.
Some of those uses are listed below.
Willows can be managed in such a way as to produce long straight un-branched rods for utility use. Willow rods can also be split into splints or skeins. Larger rods can be stripped of their bark. Such materials have typically and historically been used to make various forms of basketry, with great artistry, skill and ingenuity. However there are other uses, some of which are listed below.
CATKINS - Some willows develop flowers ( catkins) before their leaves and provide nectar and pollen for bees when little else is available, attracting bees & insects into orchards and fields. The catkins are often used as cut flowers. Silver pussy willows are traditional, but there are pink, black, gray, pussy willows.
LANDSCAPING Coppiced plants often have stunning winter color. Pussy willows provide beauty in the garden and in the home. Willows are very easy to propagate & many varieties are extremely hardy and have significant environmental and landscape value.
BIOMASS Varieties of willow are grown for wood chipping - energy source - producing biomass superior to many other crops.
There is also a new interest in willows as an alternative crop useful in changing and repairing landscapes ... phyoremediation- fueling a renewed interest in breeding new varieties of willows and supporting extensive new cultivation.
LAND RECLAMATION / SOIL IMPROVEMENT Some willow varieties due to their root structure, growing habit, and nutrient uptake are very useful in improving lands that have been disturbed and damaged, and are used to address issues of waste management and soil remediation.
RIVERBANK AND SLOPE STABILIZATION Various willow varieties have extensive root systems that are very helpful in holding soil that is in danger of washing away.
BUILDING CONSTRUCTION Historically willows have been used to construct quick and ready shelter and there is some renewed interest in wattle and daub construction, in various parts of the world.
WINDBREAK, SHELTER BELTS SNOW FENCING & NOISE BARRIERS- Living willow walls can be built along open country, roads freeways, river ways to provide various types of barricades and are very durable and easy to maintain.
SCULPTURES Willows are used in a creative and unique art form using long pliable un-branched willow rods to shape and make sculptural forms