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Alphabe Thursday … W is for Willow; its cultivation for baskets and other.

October 25, 2012

I grew up on the Hamble River in Hampshire where for centuries the mighty oaks were  used for the building of all types of ships.  Where the tiny willows struggled in the woodland undergrowth with no practical use at all.  

Had I perhaps been born on the Somerset coast I would have learned a different story.  There the willows were valued; woven into basket shapes of mammoth proportions to protect and reinforce the land against the flooding sea.  Its use for baskets and the transport of  goods came later and is still a vital part of the local economy.

The willow belongs to the genus Salix; there are more than 150 species, in Britain we had around ten types.
The white willow, Salix alba whose leaves have silvery hairs underneath and the crack willow Salix fragilis, with shiny, bright green leaves.  The willow timber is not valuable except that of the cricket-bat willow, Salix caerulea, a variety of Salix alba and the timber from these can fetch high prices.
However for them to flourish they need perfect growing conditions. This I believe is in Norfolk, where the soil and climate is just right. The Salix caeruleas is not allow to develop fully so the timber is suitable for the best cricket bats. White and crack willows may grow beyond 70 feet tall and 20 inches round.
However most of our native willows are shrubby; with narrow leaves and catkins in the spring and long pliant branches.

Willows are very cross-fertile, and numerous hybrids occur, both naturally and in cultivation. A well-known ornamental example is the weeping willow  which is a hybrid of Peking willow Salix Babylonica  from China and our white willow Salix alba.

The osier or common willow is cultivated for basket making; an ancient skill that is still practiced in Somerset and beautifully documented in Willow : paintings and drawing with Somerset voices by Kate Lynch.

The forward is written by David Bellamy (Itinerant Botanist); he reminds us of another invaluable use for the Willow and its bark.  For many years before it gave the world Aspirin it was used to relieve headaches and to thin the blood. David remembers having biscuits made with willow charcoal to treat flatulence and dysentery   

4 Comments leave one →
  1. littlebitquirky permalink
    October 28, 2012 6:40 am

    Very interesting! I never knew that about willow!

    • October 28, 2012 7:00 am

      She is a bit of a poor relation and a bit of a tart … so best we don’t talk about her to much. 🙂 Thanks for looking

  2. November 5, 2012 11:59 pm

    That bottom graphic is so cool.

    I had a friend once that wove with willow. She made gorgeous baskets.

    I really enjoyed reading about the materials here!

    Wonderfully interesting link.

    Thank you for sharing it.


    • November 6, 2012 6:08 am

      I truly wish I could take credit for this and the other blogs from your prompt … I work in a very nice environment and opportunities come up like little bubbles of joy. I will be sad when the Alphabet come to an end. Thank YiuX

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