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Valentine.gr  

January 2003

Did you know that the first medicine with salicylic acid (the precursor of aspirin) extracted from the bark of the willow?

Willow (Salix spp.)

Willow (Salix spp.)

Salix is the botanical name for a group of deciduous (leaf-losing) trees and shrubs, which are mostly hardy. They are found wild throughout Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and North America; a few are found in the Southern Hemisphere. Some grow naturally in the arctic and alpine regions. The common name for this group and also the old Latin name is, Willow. Willow comprises more than 300 shrubs or trees of the Salicaceae family and varies in height from a few inches to 70-80 ft (21-24 meters). The botanical name of the Willow 'Salix' comes from the Celtic word "sal"- meaning near, and "lis" - meaning water, because the Willow grows in the moist ground particularly on the banks of rivers and streams.

Most Willows grow rapidly and are fairly short-lived. Their young stems are flexible and strong, but the old branches are soft and brittle and liable to storm damage. Willows may form large bushes, prostrate shrubs, trees of medium height with the typical tree outline, and trees with hanging branches; there are all sorts of intermediates. The leaves of most Willows are long, slender and oblong or lance-shaped. Willow flowers are borne in early spring, either before or after the leaves. Male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are produced on separate trees. Both types are borne in catkins (a long cluster of flowers), which are carried erectly on the branch. The male flowers are more noticeable than the female flowers, the former being a yellow color when mature, though some kinds are reddish. The female flowers are ordinarily green or gray-green. Very rarely are male or female flowers produced on the same tree. Seeds ripen during May and June and are whitish colored; they are produced sparingly in cottony fiber. Willows are very easy to grow and love moist soil in full sun.

Some of the more common types to be found are: the Black Willow (Salix nigra) named for its dark bark. The tall White Willow (S. alba) is commonly found in cultivated ground and is probably a descendant of the White Willow of Europe. This is the largest of the Willows growing to over 75 ft (23 meters) with a girth of some 20 ft or more (6 meters); its ash-gray silky leaves give the tree its white appearance. The Weeping Willow (S. babylonica) grows from 40 to 50 feet high. Is believed to have originated in China and often appears in Chinese art. Its beauty makes it a favorite ornamental tree in gardens and parks, but while it is widely cultivated for its beauty, it has practically no commercial value. An interesting tree called the Permanent Wave Tree or curly willow is S. Matsudana var. tortuosa. This tree has spiraling twisted branches and twigs; it grows 30 feet or so. Its spiraling branches are vey decorative and are used widely for indoors decorations. A popular shrub or tree is the Pussy Willow S. discolor also known as Goat Willow, usually grown as a shrub along the banks of streams. In the spring it produces charming, silky soft male catkins. It is especially favored for cutting for indoor decoration. For early bloom inside, branches of these plants may be cut and stood in containers of water in a sunny window anytime after the middle of January. Soon, the "pussies" develop and make an attractive display for a considerable time. Perhaps the most commercial of the Willows are those of the genus called Osiers and a significant industry has developed from the use of its wood. The Osiers include the Common Osier or Basket Willow (S. viminalis) and the Purple Willow (S. purpurea).  They furnish pliable shoots and twigs that are used in Europe for basket making and wickerwork. 

The wood of the Willow is white, soft and light but also tough and elastic, and is not given to splintering when subjected to strain. It is used for making tool handles, shipping containers, baseballs and cricket bats, and because it is relatively nonflammable for the brake blocks of railway stock. Hippocrates of Kos, the father of all doctors, prescribed a juice extracted from the bark of the willow tree for fever and pain, and also for labour pains. The active substance in this juice, which does in fact ease pain, is - as we know today - salicylic acid (the precursor of aspirin). Its name gives a clue as to its origin, being derived from the Latin word for willow: salix.

The Willow is particularly rich in folklore and myths, and has many associations with greek mythology. In Ancient Greece willow was sacred to fertility. The Willow was also sacred to poets, for the sound of the wind through the Willow is said to have a potent influence on the mind which results in inspiration. Orpheus the Greeks most celebrated poet is said to have received his gifts of eloquence and communication from the Willow by carrying its branches with him while journeying through the Underworld.

Source:
http://www.botany.com/salix.html
http://www.controverscial.com/Willow.htm
http://www.aspirin.com/world_of_aspirin_en.html

 

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Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis
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Buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea
Himalayan Honeysuckle - Leycesteria formosa
Raisin Tree - Hovenia dulcis
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Butterfly Pea - Clitoria ternatea
Honey Flower - Melianthus major
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Lion's Ear - Wild Dagga - Leonotis leonurus
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Caesalpinia - Caesalpinia pulcherrima
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Mistletoe - Viscum album
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Clivia - Clivia Miniata
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Peach - Prunus persica
Almond - Prunus amygdalus
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Cardon - Pachycereus pringlei
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Primula - Primerose
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Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperial
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