Grey Willow Tree Information
Latin name: Salix cinerea
Native words: Old Irish (saille) Scots Gaelic (suil) Old English () Welsh () eastern Celtic ()
Ogham sign: S
Height when mature: 6m 15ft
Height after 10 years:
Grey Willow botanical description:
Known as Grey Willow because of the grey hairs on shoots, it is often called Pussy Willow after the large fat silver buds (actually male flowers) which develop into the bright yellow catkins which festoon the tree in March and early April. In fact both Salix cinerea and S. caprea can be termed Pussy Willows and have strong similarities in appearance. Many willows hybridise in the wild so identification can be difficult. Willow leaves are slender and elliptical, and about 6-10cm long, green above and grey green below and soft to the touch underneath. The bark on the trunk and main branches starts smooth and grey green in colour, but quickly becomes corky and ridged. Grey Willows tend to grow in an untidy sprawling manner but can be trained to grow neatly.
Grey Willow natural history and ancient wisdom:
Willow naturally grows in damp, marshy places. Today it is commonly found on redundant industrial sites and is a good pioneer species. Willow has several advantages; the wood is strong and fairly water resistant and it is also flexible. Willow wood was used for coracle frames in Ireland and its ability to absorb shock without splintering is still utilized in cricket bats and stumps (note also the similarity between 'wicket' and 'wicker'), The Dutch traditionally make their clogs from willow wood. The wood is good for turning and Celts made their chariot wheel spokes, and Gypsies their clothes pegs, from it. Wicker-work was a major cottage industry, using the smaller branches and coppiced or pollarded willow. Willow’s outer branches are very flexible and could be woven into basket, lobster pots and bee hives. Near many marshlands and rivers where willow grows profusely, large stands were allowed to develop and coppiced before the whips were used to make baskets. Willow weaving still goes on today mainly as an amenity past time, often to create living sculptures in places of community focus. All of these are made from live cuttings, pushed into the ground, which are then woven and sculpted into different shapes. In the spring the sculpture will flower and come into leaf! Willow is now famous for its medicinal properties. Aspirin is made from an extract of Willow trees, known as salicylic acid. The healing properties of willow have been known for a long time. An infusion from the bitter bark is a good remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed on which had a pain killing effect.
Grey Willow place names:
Withgill (Yorkshire) ‘willow ridge Withcote (Leicestershire) ‘willow clump’ Witcombe (Somerset) ‘willow valley’ Willen (Berkshire) ‘willows’ Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire, Corrieshalloch in Speyside. In Manchester there is a street name near the River Irwell called Withy Grove which probably refers to willow trees growing near the river.
Grey Willow wildlife rating:
Good. In terms of the wildlife that uses it, willow is the most beneficial native tree. The catkins are one of the first to emerge in March and are a vital food source for bees emerging from hibernation
Grey Willow good points/ bad points:
Will tolerate damp ground and can be planted in a boggy area of the garden. How about creating an avenue of willow arches by training them over frames, or a lovers bower. You can sit in there in spring and listen to the bees hum on the catkins!