There are 4 native Irish Willows, Goat Willow, Grey Willow, The Eared Willow and the less common Bay Leaved Willow. The Willow pictured above is Twisted Willow a non native that nonetheless grows very well here in Ireland. This one was grown from a cutting about 6 years ago and is 15 feet tall. All the Willows have a liking for damp ground and do well in our wet climate.
The flowers of the Willow which are produced from February-March are called catkins or pussy willows. The pussy willow name comes from the newly opened catkins resemblance to the paws of a fluffy kitten. Seeds can be obtained from the catkins in early Summer, however, cuttings take very easily so that is the usual method of propogation.
These cuttings, which were in a bucket of water have made strong roots in about 2 months. Ten new Willows for free!
The water in which Willows have been soaked in said to aid other plants in rooting. A friend of mine has a Dragon Willow which is really lovely. The bark is dark brown in colour and the branches are flattened, as opposed to round, as they get a bit older. I have taken cuttings from this a few times but none have rooted. Maybe this one only grows from seeds?
In recent years Willow has been much used in the making of fedges and living sculptures. It’s traditional uses would have been in making baskets of various sizes and types and for creels. Creels are a traditional basket for bringing home the turf. One would be placed on each side of a Donkey to carry home the important Winter fuel.
Ten years ago I did a basket making course with Joe Hogan, a brilliant craftsman who makes his living from basketmaking. Joe lives in Galway and a wonderful week was spent there by Loch na Fooey making baskets. The basket above is an Irish potato basket. The potatoes, when cooked would be emptied into the basket, the water escaped and the basket was placed on the table. I made 4 baskets under Joe’s tuition but sadly never made one since. I found that my hands were not strong enough for the work.
Willow is known to have healing properties. It is an old remedy for rheumatism, arthritis, muscular aches and all conditions caused by damp. It is interesting that the Willows grow in dampness but also cure conditions caused by damp. Nature being the cause and the cure!
The bark of Willow contains Salicin, which is made into Salicylic Acid, the origin of Aspirin.
Being of a watery nature Willow is governed by the Moon. In her book, The Sacred Tree, Glennie Kindred says “The Willow speaks to us of the female side of ourselves, whether we are men or women. Being sacred to the Moon, it will help us keep in touch with our life’s rhythms, our dreams, and deep unconscious thoughts and feelings”.