Willow Trees: A Long History with Healing
The willow tree is a tall, deciduous tree, growing 30 to 80 feet tall, with a 20 to 35 foot spread of graceful arching branches. Smaller branches are supple and flexible like reeds allowing small breezes to often set the entire tree in motion. Leaves are slender and oval-shaped. The downward arching form of the weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is the most dramatic weeping form of all the willows. Other willows too, however, can also take on this pendulous quality (Salix alba 'Tristis', and Salix pendulina 'Elegantissima'.
The downward habit of the willow branches gives the willow tree an association with the more gentle and inward aspect of the human emotions. In bringing our attention inward, the Trees of Remembrance remind us that grieving is a powerful attribute of the human species, and a vital step in the individual and collective healing processes. Grieving reminds us we are profoundly connected to one another. Remembrance allows us to stay connected to those we have cherished, and to continue to act with the power of our love and connection.
Members of the genus, Poplar, also of the Salicaceae Family, have been described as "the great healers of the land that lies bleeding and torn, scoured or burned." (Cullina, p. 198) As healers, poplars are among the first species to move into a disturbed or degraded landscape. They stabilize habitats that will eventually give way to longer-lived, slower growing trees.
A species of Poplar, the Eastern Cottonwood, is the fastest growing native species in America, averaging growth in good conditions, of five feet in one season. Our ability to heal requires movement: an ability to move out of distress and into the flow of life again.
The Willows manufacture a medicinal compound for relieving pain, now used almost universally. In 1838, salicylic acid, the main active ingredient in willow bark, was isolated as a forerunner of aspirin. The chemical drug, aspirin was first produced in 1899. (Chevalier, p. 128). Willow leaves and bark have been used to alleviate pain across cultures for thousands of years. (See Ethnobonical Uses below.) The willow tree has made an immense contribution to our world through its role in the relief of pain. The Willows manufacture a hormone from which "rooting hormone" is derived. Before rooting hormone was available commercially, a twig of willow was put in water with the stem cutting of a plant one wished to propagate. The willow family, thus, is a great promoter of healing, in assisting movement and growing into life and change.
Moist or wet soils are the rule, and at least half a day's sun. Willows tolerate almost any soil, coarse sand to fine silt loams. PH 6.5-7.5. They are tolerant of compaction, but sensitive to pollution. Propagation of the willow can be as easy as plucking a stem, and placing it in a moist medium, upright like a little tree. The willow tree carries a hormone from which "rooting hormone" is derived. Landscape Caution: The roots of the willow tree can stray two to three times their dripline area, and can clog septic systems and storm drains.
Willow trees thrive by streams and rivers. One can often read the presence of water in a landscape from a distance by the noting populations of willow. It is possible too, that the running water aids the human ability to access our own wellspring emotion and tears.