There are more than 300 species of willow which grow in the northern hemisphere. They are hugely variable; tiny ground hugging creeping plants to tall fast growing trees. most will happily grow in moist or wet soils. Most species are easily grown from cuttings, it is pehaps one of the easiest plants to grow from cuttings. Simply placing a 1m length of branch halfway into the ground in winter is often successful.
Native willows are plentiful but often difficult to identify the exact species as they interbreed; this results in characteristics of individual species being indistinct.
They are often called “sallies’ or “pussy willows’ due to the furry flower buds that appear on some plants. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The goat willow, Salix caprea has showy yellow catkins in Spring.
Willows are often grown in wet areas. Salix alba has the potential to grow into a very large tree. It is often coppiced by gardeners to maintain a shrub-like growth habit which also results in vigorous new growths that are vibrantly coloured orange and yellow in winter. Even on large specimens a golden glow of twigs can be seen against the dull winter sky.
Willow stems are used in weaving to make baskets, a craft that has undergone a revival in recent years as has the interest in willow sculptures and “living” fences.
Willow is also being grown as a fuel crop. It can be made into briquettes and is being used to replace the dependence on fossil fuels at some power plants in Ireland.