AskDefine | Define willow

The Collaborative Dictionary

Willow \Wil"low\, n. [OE. wilowe, wilwe, AS. wilig, welig; akin to OD. wilge, D. wilg, LG. wilge. Cf. Willy.] [1913 Webster]
(Bot.) Any tree or shrub of the genus Salix, including many species, most of which are characterized often used as an emblem of sorrow, desolation, or desertion. "A wreath of willow to show my forsaken plight." --Sir W. Scott. Hence, a lover forsaken by, or having lost, the person beloved, is said to wear the willow. [1913 Webster] And I must wear the willow garland For him that's dead or false to me. --Campbell. [1913 Webster]
(Textile Manuf.) A machine in which cotton or wool is opened and cleansed by the action of long spikes projecting from a drum which revolves within a box studded with similar spikes; -- probably so called from having been originally a cylindrical cage made of willow rods, though some derive the term from winnow, as denoting the winnowing, or cleansing, action of the machine. Called also willy, twilly, twilly devil, and devil. [1913 Webster] Almond willow, Pussy willow, Weeping willow. (Bot.) See under Almond, Pussy, and Weeping. Willow biter (Zool.) the blue tit. [Prov. Eng.] Willow fly (Zool.), a greenish European stone fly (Chloroperla viridis); -- called also yellow Sally. Willow gall (Zool.), a conical, scaly gall produced on willows by the larva of a small dipterous fly (Cecidomyia strobiloides). Willow grouse (Zool.), the white ptarmigan. See ptarmigan. Willow lark (Zool.), the sedge warbler. [Prov. Eng.] Willow ptarmigan (Zool.) (a) The European reed bunting, or black-headed bunting. See under Reed. (b) A sparrow (Passer salicicolus) native of Asia, Africa, and Southern Europe. Willow tea, the prepared leaves of a species of willow largely grown in the neighborhood of Shanghai, extensively used by the poorer classes of Chinese as a substitute for tea. --McElrath. Willow thrush (Zool.), a variety of the veery, or Wilson's thrush. See Veery. Willow warbler (Zool.), a very small European warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus); -- called also bee bird, haybird, golden wren, pettychaps, sweet William, Tom Thumb, and willow wren. [1913 Webster]
Willow \Wil"low\, v. t. To open and cleanse, as cotton, flax, or wool, by means of a willow. See Willow, n.,
[1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 any of numerous deciduous trees and shrubs of the genus Salix [syn: willow tree]
2 a textile machine having a system of revolving spikes for opening and cleaning raw textile fibers




  1. Any of various deciduous trees or shrubs in the genus Salix, in the willow family Salicaceae, found primarily on moist soils in cooler zones in the northern hemisphere.
  2. In the context of "cricket|colloquial": A cricket bat
  3. In the context of "baseball|slang": an 1800s baseball term meaning the bat



Willows, sallows and osiers form the genus Salix, around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most species are known as willow, but some narrow-leaved shrub species are called osier, and some broader-leaved species are called sallow (the latter name is derived from the Latin word salix, willow). Some willows (particularly arctic and alpine species), are low-growing or creeping shrubs; for example the dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) rarely exceeds 6 cm in height, though spreading widely across the ground.
Willows are very cross-fertile and numerous hybrids occur, both naturally and in cultivation. A well known example is the weeping willow (Salix × sepulcralis), very widely planted as an ornamental tree, which is a hybrid of a Chinese species and a European species – Peking willow and white willow.


The willows all have abundant watery sap, bark which is heavily charged with salicylic acid, soft, usually pliant, tough wood, slender branches and large, fibrous, often stoloniferous roots. The roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity of life, and roots readily grow from aerial parts of the plant.
The leaves are typically elongated but may also be round to oval, frequently with a serrated margin. All the buds are lateral; no absolutely terminal bud is ever formed. The buds are covered by a single scale, enclosing at its base two minute opposite buds, alternately arranged, with two, small, scale-like, fugacious, opposite leaves. The leaves are alternate, except the first pair which fall when about an inch long. They are simple, feather-veined, and typically linear-lanceolate. Usually they are serrate, rounded at base, acute or acuminate. The leaf petioles are short, the stipules often very conspicuous, looking like tiny round leaves and sometimes remaining for half the summer. On some species, however, they are small, inconspicuous, and fugacious (soon falling). In color the leaves show a great variety of greens, ranging from yellowish to blueish.


Willows are dioecious with male and female flowers appearing as catkins on different plants; the catkins are produced early in the spring, often before the leaves, or as the new leaves open.
The staminate (male) flowers are without either calyx or corolla; they consist simply of stamens, varying in number from two to ten, accompanied by a nectariferous gland and inserted on the base of a scale which is itself borne on the rachis of a drooping raceme called a catkin, or ament. This scale is oval and entire and very hairy. The anthers are rose colored in the bud but orange or purple after the flower opens, they are two-celled and the cells open longitudinally. The filaments are threadlike, usually pale yellow, and often hairy.
The pistillate (female) flowers are also without calyx or corolla; and consist of a single ovary accompanied by a small flat nectar gland and inserted on the base of a scale which is likewise borne on the rachis of a catkin. The ovary is one-celled, the style two-lobed, and the ovules numerous.


The fruit is a small, one-celled, two-valved, cylindrical beaked capsule containing numerous tiny (0.1 mm) seeds. The seeds are furnished with long, silky, white hairs, which allow the fruit to be widely dispersed by the wind.


Almost all willows take root very readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. There are a few exceptions, including the goat willow and peachleaf willow. One famous example of such growth from cuttings involves the poet Alexander Pope, who begged a twig from a parcel tied with twigs sent from Spain to Lady Suffolk. This twig was planted and thrived, and legend has it that all of England's weeping willows are descended from this first one.
Willows are often planted on the borders of streams so that their interlacing roots may protect the bank against the action of the water. Frequently the roots are much larger than the stem which grows from them.

Ecological issues

Willows are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species - see list of Lepidoptera that feed on willows.
A number of willow species were widely planted in Australia, notably as erosion control measures along watercourses. They are now regarded as an invasive weed and many catchment management authorities are removing them to be replaced with native trees.


Medicinal uses

The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever, and the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties in the 5th century BC. Native Americans across the American continent relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments. This is because they contain salicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin.
In 1763 its medicinal properties were observed by the Reverend Edward Stone in England. He notified the Royal Society who published his findings. The active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist, and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist, who then succeeded in separating out the acid in its pure state. Salicin is acidic when in a saturated solution in water (pH = 2.4), and is called salicylic acid for that reason.
In 1897 Felix Hoffmann created a synthetically altered version of salicin (in his case derived from the Spiraea plant), which caused less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid. The new drug, formally Acetylsalicylic acid, was named aspirin by Hoffmann's employer Bayer AG. This gave rise to the hugely important class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Other uses

; Agriculture : Willow bark contains auxins: plant growth hormones, especially those used for rooting new cuttings. The bark can even be used to make a simple extract that will promote cutting growth.; Wood : Boxes, brooms, cricket bats (grown from certain strains of white willow), cradle boards, chairs and other furniture, dolls, flutes, poles, sweat lodges, toys, turnery, tool handles, veneer, wands, whistles; Other wood-derived products: Fibre plants, paper, rope and string, tannin; Religion : As one of the "Four Species" used in a ceremony on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Also the willow is one of the nine sacred trees mentioned in wicca and witchcraft, with several magical uses.

Willow in human culture

The willow is a famous subject in many East Asian nations' cultures particularily painting (pen and ink) in china and japan.
Gisaeng Hongrang, who lived in the middle of the Joseon period, wrote: like willow I will be the willow on your bedside. Hongrang wrote this poem by the willow in the rain in the evening which she gave to her parting lover . In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.
Willow trees are quite prevalent in folklore and myths .

In literature

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under The Willow Tree (1853) in which children ask questions of a tree they call 'willow-father', paired with another entity called 'elder-mother'.
Green Willow is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. The Willow Wife is another, not dissimilar tale. Wisdom of the Willow Tree is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a Willow tree, addressing the tree in conversation as 'Grandfather'.
In JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there is an ancient tree on the school grounds of Hogwarts called the Whomping Willow. It is provided as a hiding spot of a secret passageway that Professor Remus Lupin roamed through every full moon when he began his transformation into a werewolf.
Also, in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the character Ophelia climbed a Willow tree when a branch broke and dropped her into the river below where she drowned.


× sepulcralis)

See also


  • Newsholme, C. (1992). Willows: The Genus Salix. ISBN 0-88192-565-9
  • Warren-Wren, S.C. (1992). The Complete Book of Willows. ISBN 0-498-01262-X
willow in Arabic: صفصاف
willow in Bosnian: Vrba
willow in Bulgarian: Върба
willow in Catalan: Salze
willow in Czech: Vrba
willow in Danish: Pile-slægten
willow in German: Weiden (Botanik)
willow in Modern Greek (1453-): Ιτιά
willow in Erzya: Каль
willow in Spanish: Salix
willow in Esperanto: Saliko
willow in Basque: Sahats
willow in French: Saule
willow in Galician: Salgueiro
willow in Korean: 버드나무속
willow in Croatian: Vrbe
willow in Indonesian: Dedalu
willow in Ossetian: Хæрис
willow in Italian: Salix
willow in Hebrew: ערבה (צמח)
willow in Latin: Salix
willow in Lithuanian: Gluosnis
willow in Hungarian: Fűzfa
willow in Macedonian: Врба
willow in Dutch: Wilg
willow in Japanese: ヤナギ
willow in Norwegian: Viere
willow in Polish: Wierzba
willow in Portuguese: Salgueiro
willow in Romanian: Salcie
willow in Quechua: Sawsi
willow in Russian: Ива
willow in Northern Sami: Sieđga
willow in Albanian: Salix
willow in Slovenian: Vrba (drevo)
willow in Serbian: Врба
willow in Finnish: Pajut
willow in Swedish: Videsläktet
willow in Vietnamese: Chi Liễu
willow in Turkish: Söğüt
willow in Ukrainian: Верба
willow in Yiddish: ערבה
willow in Chinese: 柳树
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