Outlook Issue 14 Spring 2011
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Nature Notes
Nature Notes Versatile willow The willow family bears the scientific name Salicacea; all members are water loving and contribute wonderfully to the lowland landscapes of Suffolk water meadows. They line river banks, fringe ponds and meres. The willow family is complicated, sometimes not easy to identify, and whilst the leaves are simple in outline, the shape varies according to the species, from broad oval to narrow lance-shaped. There are various types of willows producing different colour osier twigs. Willows are historically useful to mankind. The pliant, young shoots are cut, stripped of their bark and used to make a variety of baskets, including creels for fishing, laundry baskets and hampers. Traditionally ‘chip’ baskets - made from thin slices of willow or poplar - were used for transporting watercress and some soft fruit. Poplar trees are used in the manufacture of matches and cocktail sticks - but locally grown willows produce cricket bats! Willows are often ‘pollarded’ - to assist in the growth of young shoots - and can live to a ripe old age. At that stage, they are gnarled and misshapen and subject to wind-blow. However, they have strong recuperative qualities and will throw out new growth, even when lying horizontal ! Wind-blown willows can be seen from the River Deben wall on the adjacent water-meadows. When Willow bark becomes fissured through age, it offers a good habitat for insects, spiders and smaller creatures which in turn presents a feeding place for numerous small birds. In Spring or early Summer, the flowers of the Goat Willow (Salix Caprea) are picked as ‘pussy willow’ and used as ‘palms’ for Palm Sunday. The flowers appear before the leaves and have been used for many years to decorate churches at Eastertide. The Willow offers relief from pain. An infusion made by the ancients from Willow bark, was developed by chemists in 1899 and marketed as aspirin! It also offers spiritual comfort and inspiration: “..My blessing upon thine offspring ... they shall spring up ... as willows by the water courses.” [Isaiah 44, vs 3 and 4]. Michael Stagg