The New Student's Reference Work/Willow
Wil′low, a class of trees of the same family as the poplar. Willows vary in size from those of the Alps, which are an inch or two high, to trees of from 50 to 80 feet. They are found in most countries, with the exception of Australia; rival the birch in wandering far northward; and in the New World are found as far south as Chile. The catkins, usually yellow, appear before or with the leaves, stamen-bearing flowers on one tree, pistil-bearing ones on another. The flowers are rich in honey, and so are prime favorites with bees. Willows scatter their seeds prodigally; and their twigs and branches take root readily and grow rapidly The trees have many and large roots, which grow a long distance through moist soil and bind it with a network of fibers, thus preventing the banks of streams from being worn away. The bark is tough and bitter, charged with salicylic acid. It is used for making fishnets, ropes, tan-bark and sometimes, in Norway and Sweden, for mixing with oatmeal. The wood is used in houses, vessels, farm-tools and casks; as fuel; and for charcoal. The twigs and young shoots are used in making baskets and light furniture. Willow leaves show a great variety of greens, ranging from a yellow to a blue green; they grow on short stalks one by one along the twigs. There are some 60 North American willows, ten of which are not found elsewhere. The most important of all kinds is the white willow, common throughout Asia, Europe and America. It sometimes reaches the height of 80 feet. It is very useful on the prairies, as it is a fast grower and also protects other trees from the wind. Other kinds are the golden osier or yellow, the blue, brittle, varnished and green willows. Very ancient is the use of willow-withes in the making of ropes and baskets. To-day the willow-ware industry is receiving increasing attention. The wood is light-colored and light in weight. Its charcoal is preferred above others for gunpowder. The weeping willow, a native of Asia and North Africa, has been introduced into America, and the drooping, supple branches are generally familiar. It grows to a large size and a great age. The tree is frequently planted in cemeteries. It is a favorite in China, and has a prominent place in Chinese pictures. A famous weeping-willow marks Napoleon's empty grave at St. Helena. In olden days the wearing of the willow was sign of despairing love. The pussy-willow is common in the United States. Usually it is but a shrub. It bears well-known, silky, white catkins, which, appearing so early in spring, are eagerly hailed as vernal heralds. Gall-insects work much harm on the willows, and gall-growths are often found on twig and leaf.