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Know Your Roots: The Weeping Willow

The Weeping Willow originates in Asia and parts of northern China, however, a mistranslation of the bible has led to confusion surrounding its origin story. Psalm 137 states that “Hebrew slaves wept for Zion under willow trees”. Naturally, this must be where the name “weeping willow” comes from, right?

photo by thespruce.com

Wrong. As it turns out, Babylon Willow trees were actually a form of Poplar. So in actuality, the name “Weeping Willow” is nothing more than a derivative of the trees appearance; it appears to “weep” when it’s raining, with “tears” dripping from its drooped branches and leaves.

The willow tree is valued or its numerous implications in modern society. Historically, the weeping willow has been used medicinally to treat fever and aches. Its bark contains salicin, an anti-inflammatory agent and one of the main components of aspirin. Scholars have wrote of the willow providing headache and pain-relief since before 500 B.C.

As we look further back in history, the willow tree has been used to make baskets, fish nets and for basic crafts. Some of the oldest fishing nets discovered date back to 8300 B.C. The branches of the willow are still manufactured today for nets, baskets and numerous other products. The bark of a willow, when not used for its salicin, is crushed and formed into charcoal pencils.

There are many mystical and spiritual properties associated with the willow and the tree is often depicted offering wisdom or protection throughout ancient folklore. In China, for example, it’s still common practice to include willow branches outside of a home or bedroom to ward off evil spirits. In Japan the willow is thought to bring about ghosts wherever one is planted. Ukrainians hold the willow in such high regard that it is their national tree.

In true “live fast, die young” fashion, the willow tree is among the fastest growing plants on the planet; growing up to ten feet each year. However, the lifespan of a willow relative to other trees is fairly short.  A willow tree will live thirty to fifty years before dying, but if they are lucky (or rather in an ideal situation) some have known to live upwards of seventy-five years.

If you wish to incorporate a willow tree into your own landscape, placement is key. The weeping willow needs an excessive amount of water to support its fast paced (fast growing) lifestyle, so often they are planted beside ponds or areas prone to flooding. Its roots are thick and they spread out under the ground searching for nutrients so avoid planting the willow tree near sidewalks or close to sewer pipes. But, don’t be too worried, the roots aren’t always destructive. Strategically planting willow trees can help stop erosion and is an adequate drainage solution for areas experiencing higher volumes of water.


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