Weeping Willow

Weeping Willow

Common name Willow
Botanical name Salix species
Family Saliaceae
Natural range  Northern hemisphere
Mature height to 10m
Form Wide canopy with descending branches
Likes spreading along waterways
Dislikes Not much
Where to plant Maybe don’t do it!
Known for Growing where they should not.

Who Doesn’t Love the Classic Willow Tree?

Willows, with their elegant, weeping branches and wide canopies, have long held a romantic allure, featuring heavily in literature and adorning riverbanks across Europe. While still popular overseas for their dappled shade and appealing shape, Willows (scientifically known as Salix species) cast quite a different story in Australia.

Why Do People Still Plant Willows in Their Gardens?

Despite their reputation in some parts of the world, people are often drawn to the Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica). Their ability to grow quickly and provide substantial shade makes them a dramatic and attractive addition to any garden. But should you plant one in your own backyard? Well, it’s worth considering a few things.

What Impact Can Willows Have on Australian Landscapes?

In Australia, Willows have a penchant for spreading along waterways and causing environmental havoc. They invade riverbanks and wetlands, resulting in erosion and blockage of waterways. States like Victoria, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory bear witness to their destructive prowess, with damage costing millions of dollars each year.

How Can Willow Roots Cause Problems?

The roots of a Willow tree are known for their aggressive nature, spreading far and wide in search of moisture. This becomes a problem when these roots come into contact with pipework in residential areas. The roots can cause significant damage, leaving homeowners with hefty repair bills.

Why Are Willows Bad for Waterways?

Unlike most other types of vegetation, Willows extend their roots deep into the bed of a watercourse. This action slows down the water flow and decreases aeration, robbing the water of essential oxygen. The result is thickets that divert water outside the main watercourse, leading to flooding and erosion, particularly where creek banks are vulnerable.

When autumn comes, the deciduous Willow leaves drop en masse, creating a pile of organic matter that reduces water quality and available oxygen. This, coupled with the considerable amount of water that Willows draw from the river, can have detrimental effects on stream health, directly threatening aquatic plants and animals.

What Makes Willow Trees So Hard to Control?

One of the reasons Willows spread so easily in Australia is their uncanny ability to regenerate from broken limbs or even small sticks. An entire tree can sprout from the remains of an old tree or just one broken branch, making them incredibly hard to control and remove completely.

Do Willows Have Any Benefits at All?

Despite their less-than-stellar reputation, not all is lost when it comes to Willows. Certain species, such as Salix alba var. caerulea, produce wood that is used to make cricket bats. This timber is tough and shock-resistant, making it the perfect material to withstand the high-speed impact of a cricket ball without significant denting or splintering.

A Few Fun Facts About Willows
  1. The name “Salix” comes from the Celtic word “sal” which means near, and “lis” which means water, emphasizing the willow’s love for watery habitats.
  2. Salicin, a pain-relieving compound, was first isolated from willow bark in 1828. This discovery eventually led to the creation of the painkiller Aspirin.
  3. Willows are dioecious, which means there are separate male and female trees. Only female trees produce the fluffy, cotton-like seeds that can often be seen floating in the air in late spring.
  4. The Weeping Willow is a common symbol of mourning and can frequently be found in cemeteries.
  5. Some species of willow can live up to 100 years.
Further Reading
  1. The Complete Guide to Willow Trees – A thorough exploration of the cultivation and care of willow trees.
  2. Willows: The Genus Salix – A deep dive into the Salix genus, its various species, and their unique characteristics.
  3. The Impact of Willow Trees on Australian Ecosystems – An academic article examining the environmental repercussions of willow invasion in Australia.
  4. The Wonderful World of Willow – A look at the versatile uses of willows, from basketry to biofuels.
  5. Managing Willows Along Waterways – A practical guide from the Melbourne Water Resource Recovery Group on managing the impact of willows on Australian waterways.

Remember, always do your research before deciding to plant a tree. And if you’re dealing with an invasive willow problem, don’t hesitate to contact a professional for advice and assistance.

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