Signs of Spring in the Midwest: Yellow Willows (Salix)

One of the first signs of spring (to me) is when the willows start to turn bright yellow. You can’t miss them in the dreary, white, Midwestern landscape.

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Some Facts About the Willow (Salix):

  • When compared to other trees, life span of a weeping willow is shorter because of its fast growing nature, some don’t thrive past 30 years.
  • They need to be grown in full sun.
  • Their height and width can be 30 to 55 feet. Willows can grow 10 inches in a good growing year.
  • The fruit of the tree is a small brown capsule. It is around half-inch long.
  • The tree is very brittle because it grows quite rapidly.
  • The bark turns reddish/brown during the winter and yellow/green in the spring.
  • Pests like aphids and tent caterpillars can destroy the tree quite quickly. You should frequently check for conditions like powdery mildew, crown gall, and canker.
  • You may cut some branches in spring, remove the bottom leaves and put them in a jar of water. Keep the jar out in the sun. Roots will grow within 15 to 20 days. However, if you want a specific variety, it is better to buy it.
  • Historically, beautiful baskets are woven using willow stems.

Country folk have known the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bark as a remedy for colds, fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century, modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant Filipendula ulmaria. From this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin, named after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria. Botanists love to change the names of plants!

Most willow species grow and prosper close to water or in damp places, and this premise is reflected in the legends associated with these trees. The moon too recurs as a theme, the movement of water being intimately connected with and affected by the moon. For example, Hecate the powerful Greek goddess of the moon and of willow, also taught sorcery and witchcraft, and was ‘a mighty and formidable divinity of the Underworld’. Helice was also associated with water, and her priestesses utilized willow in their water magic and witchcraft. The willow muse, called Heliconian after Helice, was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus brought willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. Apollo also gave Orpheus a lyre, and it is interesting to note that the sound boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood.

© The Naturarian

15 thoughts on “Signs of Spring in the Midwest: Yellow Willows (Salix)”

  1. Very interesting post, and yes the tree does stand out in your landscape right now. 🙂
    My neighbour had a lovely weeping willow that really thrived. I was amazed at how well it grew in our hot dry climate. I always picture them leaning over a river!

  2. Goodness! I was pulling out willow and redtwig dogwood for the past few days! There happens to be a golden weeping willow (or weeping golden willow) planted in the same area where we are removing the natives. I do not know what is meant by ‘golden’, so will be watching it. I have heard of the tree, but never worked with it before. It looks chlorotic to me.
    The shrubby willows on the Truckee River stay red quite late, and are striking against snow. (It is a different species from the four (!) specie that grow here.) They are not as striking as garden varieties, but are impressive because they grow wild.

    1. They do look chlorotic now! I just like them now as its a different color than white and grey here.

      1. There is no white for our golden weeping willow to contrast with, but there are plenty of deep green redwoods in the background. It will probably look pretty flashy when it gets bigger. I am just none too keen on yellow foliage.

        1. I hear you on the yellow leaves… Usually that means things aren’t healthy. Redwoods are super – awesome trees. Very beautiful!

  3. The gentle touches of yellow show so clearly that the rest could be a simple Black and White photo. It is something I have never seen. There is always colour her, no matter how deep the winter is.

    1. I was pretty stoked the photo came out as well as it did. Kinda proves my point a bit more 😊

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