Weeping willows, or Salix babylonica, are distinctive trees both in appearance and background. Known for its large size and dramatic drooping branches, these trees are almost always easily recognized. What isn't always known, however, are the interesting facts surrounding these magnificent trees. From its varied symbolism to its practical uses, the weeping willow never ceases to intrigue us.
There is a good deal of symbolism associated with willows. The Westernized thought of weeping willows as a symbol of grief most likely originates from a Bible verse, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow-trees we hung up our harps.'' (Psalm 137), hence the name Salix babylonica. However, it is generally agreed upon by historians that the trees referred to in this verse are not actually weeping willows; they were most likely poplars. Ironically, in other parts of the world such as China, which is were the tree originated, the willow represents vitality, growth, rebirth and immortality. This symbolism stems from its ability to grow easily from cut branches. Nevertheless, the association between weeping willows and grief persisted throughout history, and were a common gravestone ornament by the 19th century.
Weeping willows are one of the fastest growing trees and sprout easily. In fact, they grow so easily that oftentimes they originate from a broken branch lying the in the soil. It is therefore very adaptable to soil conditions; weeping willows can flourish in both alkaline and acidic conditions. These trees grow an average of 6-8 feet per year and upon maturity can be up to 50 feet tall and 35 feet wide.
Weeping willow roots are aggressive water seekers. In their search for water, roots can block pipes and damage nearby structures such sidewalks. This is why willows are often planted in open areas near a body of water Just as the roots can be damaging if placed in the wrong setting, they can very helpful if placed in the right setting. Weeping willows are used to help with soil drainage and can help prevent erosion.
People have taken advantage of the medicinal properties of willow trees since ancient times (as early as 400 BC). Chewing on willow bark was an effective way of treating fever and inflammation. This is because the bark contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to the active ingredient in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid. Recent studies have also suggested that willow bark contains additional antioxidant, antiseptic and immune boosting properties. Research suggests that willow bark is effective at treating headaches, lower back pain and osteoporosis.
Weeping willows also have a role in arts and crafts. Willows have long been used for wicker work and basketry. Before plastic was invented, willow wickerwork was used to make an array of containers. Willow wood was also used to build houses and furniture. Today, using willow wood is a good way to add a natural rustic element to your living space. Weeping willows have also been used to manufacture charcoal, cricket bats and made into a dye for tanning leather.