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The Majestic Weeping Willow Tree

Catherine's writing reflects her life-long love of nature and gardening. She advocates for sustainability and respect for all living things.

A weeping willow in the summer garden.

A weeping willow in the summer garden.

Origins

The weeping willow, Salix babylonica, originated in Northern China, was cultivated throughout Asia, traded along the Silk Road, and eventually made its way to Europe. It was introduced to North America by early colonists.

It gets its genus name from the Celtic word sallis: "sa" meaning near and " lis" meaning water. There are over 400 species of willows throughout the world.

The species name babylonica originates from Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow trees we hung our harps." Those trees were actually poplars, but the botanical name given by Linnaeus still stands today whereas the Bible passage has been corrected in some modern versions.

Characteristics

This beloved shade tree has a short and stocky trunk with long, graceful, weeping branches that hang close to the ground. These characteristics add to its popularity as a climbing tree and secret hiding place for children.

Willows are fast growing. This tree can gain 2-6 feet in a year until it reaches 30-50 feet in height with equal spread. Although deciduous, it offers a long season of beautiful foliage which is green with a white underside. Often the first to leaf-out in spring and the last to drop them in fall, it is a wonderful shade specimen. With its golden display of fall foliage and its rather spooky sculptural trunk, it holds year round interest.

Habitat Value

The weeping willow is a magnificent wildlife tree. It's pollen-rich catkins attract many species of bees and other pollinators. It is a host tree for the Viceroy butterfly and the Mourning Cloak whose caterpillars both feed and pupate on it. The tree's soft bark is home to many boring insects, so birds are attracted to it as a food source.

The deer love to feed on its tender twigs, leafy low hanging branches, and soft bark. Ironically, the tree is able to withstand the damage from these animals. It also attracts rabbits and most other local wildlife who enjoy its fallen the twigs and seeds.

Squirrels and small mammals use its numerous cavities for nesting too.

Woodpeckers use it as a food source for its many boring insects, and songbirds favor the caterpillars. The tree's weeping habit provides excellent shelter, and the availability of food, brittle twigs and cottony seeds make it an attractive nesting site.

Left to right Bacterial Wetwood slime flux,  spring willow catkin, mature cottony seed head favored by songbirds.

Left to right Bacterial Wetwood slime flux, spring willow catkin, mature cottony seed head favored by songbirds.

Care

Weeping willows ideally need 4- 6 hours of full sun and plenty of water, preferring to stay moist at the root zone.

Growing them alongside a natural water source is best, so they don't invade plumbing. They should be planted at least 50 feet from utility lines, septic or sewer systems, and any structures. Their roots can easily spread out 100 feet from the main trunk, and limbs are brittle. Leaf litter is ample, so keep clear of pools and fountains. They are beautiful lawn trees as long as they have plenty of room and deep irrigation. Lawn sprinklers shouldn't be the only source for water. Surface watering creates shallow roots which crack foundations and pipes.

Apply fertilizer in the spring when growth is active with a balanced slow release food like Osmocote. Weeping willows are typically heavy feeders, and their yellow leaves during the growing season will indicate when they need more nitrogen.

Prune in the late winter when the tree is dormant. These trees should be pruned when young with the cut to determine the size of the central leader. The tree will then in subsequent season develop whip-like growth from this to give the tree a layered look. Any additional pruning should only be to open up the canopy for air flow or to removed diseased growth. The tree will not handle severe pruning.

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As with most trees, stress will make them susceptible to pests and disease. The most common pests are Gypsy moths whose hungry larvae can quickly strip the leaves and leaf sucking aphids and scale. Both are easy to control. Powdery mildew and rust can also be handled with light pruning for better air circulation and a simple fungicide. Both show up with wet weather and humidity. More damaging are scab cankers and borers which can kill the tree if ignored. They require immediate treatment and are best handled by an ISA certified arborist.

Willows can develop Bacterial Wetwood Disease. When bark is damaged by woodpeckers or mechanical equipment, it will ooze a fermenting foamy exudate called slime flux. Larger areas of bark split from heavy limbs or drought will also produce the slime which will cause further damage to the bark and cambium of the tree if not immediately addressed. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be managed by the removal of infected limbs which should callous over in time.

Winter weeping willow reflected in a pool of dormant water lilies.

Winter weeping willow reflected in a pool of dormant water lilies.

Uses for Weeping Willow

Weeping willows grow very quickly and, as a result, has weak wood. It is unsuitable for more than pallets or crates. Even its high moisture content makes it a poor firewood.

Like all willows, the sap from the tree's bark contains salicylic acid which is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. References to its medicinal properties go back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and North America. The white willow, Salix alba, is best known in the development of aspirin and its more modern derivatives. Willow bark is still used around the world today in herbal formulations.

Native Americans used the twigs as paintbrushes, and when charred, they also make good charcoal for drawing.

The Weeping Willow is Beloved for Its Symbolism

Here in the West we equate the weeping willow with mourning and sadness, often seeing it in cemeteries and memorial parks. The trees are actually planted there as symbols of rebirth and immortality, significant in Eastern philosophy.

Willows are also associated with the water that flows nearby and the moon's influence upon it. They are believed to be enchanted, evoking emotions and bringing psychic clarity, and have been revered in pagan celebrations since ancient times. The willow symbolizes femininity and the springing forth of life.

Next time you "knock on wood," think of the willow and how it's rumored to keep secrets hidden deep within its bark. As their silvery leaves shimmer in the breeze and you listen to the wind in the willows, ask yourself if it just might be the elves and fairies whispering among themselves after all. What a perfect place to settle beneath with a journal or to ponder life's mysteries on a moonlit night! It's no wonder they have inspired artists and poets for centuries.

Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Catherine Tally

Comments

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on May 04, 2018:

Thank you, Larry! You are not alone in your feelings about the weeping willow. It is considered a tree of enchantment and has close associations w/ mysticism.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on May 03, 2018:

Catherine, I just love the Weeping Willow tree. I think it is the most beautiful and in a way it has a mysterious feeling about it. I can just stare at it and I get magical and caring thoughts in my mind.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 27, 2017:

Thank you, Colin!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 26, 2017:

Hello again, Demas! Sounds wonderful-when you do make that video, I'd love to see it! Take care:)

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on October 26, 2017:

Back again.

One of my bucket list items is getting a good video of a favorite weeping willow tree (a massive one) dancing in strong winds on a sunny day. I am sure it will have a soothing quality many will enjoy.

colin powell from march on October 26, 2017:

That was a good article. The Willow is one of my favourite trees. I did not realise how aggressive the root growth can be. Especially close to one's home.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 13, 2016:

Hello Bronwen, I can imagine how beautiful it was to see their graceful branches hanging over the riverbanks! It makes sense since they were often planted for erosion control. Replacing invasive species with native ones is a far better practice overall; however, I too miss the attractive features of the "bad" guys. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It's nice to see you here!

All of the best,

Cat:)

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on April 13, 2016:

Love the poem and also the interesting information. My very first poem as a child was about a willow tree. They used to line creeks in the countryside to prevent erosion, but recently the watercourses I've seen nearby have had them all eradicated and native trees put in instead. I miss the beauty of the gracefulness of the willows.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 13, 2016:

Hello Peggy! Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, it's really too bad that they have such a high need for water which makes them invasive near plumbing; so many of have soft spots for them. I'm glad you found this helpful too. I appreciate the share!

My best,

Cat:)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2016:

Your poem was beautiful and apt. The weeping willow tree is so beautiful. I loved that photo you took of it with the water lilies. I never realized how invasive it can become. Pinning this to my trees board and sharing.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on December 11, 2015:

Hi John, I'm discovering here that the weeping willow has lots of fans! Thanks for your thoughtful comments- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Wishing you a happy Christmas season and a bright new year,

Cat:)

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on December 10, 2015:

The weeping willow is a delightful tree, and this hub and lovely poem did it jusstice Cat. It was a pleasure to read.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on December 10, 2015:

Hi Jackie! Lucky you! I'm impressed with your green thumb and imagine that you have lovely grounds and gardens around your home. I appreciate your comments- thanks!

All the best,

Cat:)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 10, 2015:

I love weeping willows and I have gotten many growing just poking a twig in the ground and one I got going good was moved a half dozen times before I settled on where it should go and today it is majestic!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 04, 2015:

Thank you, Stella!

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on September 04, 2015:

Hi, This was very enjoyable to read. Weeping willows were my favorite trees. We had them growing up in Indiana, they are so beautiful. Stella

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on August 23, 2015:

Hello Demas and thank you for stopping by to read about the weeping willow! I'm glad your efforts led you here and that you enjoyed my hub. Yes, it's interesting that cricket bats are made from willow wood. There are many varieties, and it's usually white willow (Salix alba) that is best. Unfortunately, the wood of the weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is too dense, therefore heavy, to make a good bat. I guess we'll just have to enjoy its many other attributes.

Nice to see you again! Take care.

Cat:)

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on August 22, 2015:

My latest offering led to this "Related Hub" and it was a fitting reward for my puny efforts. Nice background to the love others have expressed here for this tree. Did you know that cricket bats are made from its wood?

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on July 26, 2015:

Hi Victoria, Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I hope someday you will have one! My husband & I both wanted one when we were planting a tree for the front yard but knew it would have been an expensive mistake. Thankfully, we can visit the beautiful one pictured in this hub. Glad you enjoyed reading!

My best,

Cat:)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 26, 2015:

I love weeping willows, but their drawbacks have made me stay away from planting one. Maybe one of these days if and when I have a decent sized piece of property away from the waterlines!! Neat hub!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on December 03, 2014:

Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by. I'm finding that the willow is a beloved tree for so many. My husband & I wanted to plant one, but it would have been a very poor choice because of its need for water. Thankfully, we can visit the one in our botanical gardens nearby! Did you enjoy my short poem?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 03, 2014:

We had a big old willow in our front yard when I was growing up. My favorite tree of all time, but they are buggers on the pipes underground. :) Oh well, you can't have everything, right? Thanks for the information. Love the title.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on August 24, 2014:

Hi Fay,

By all means, you should plant one or find a nearby place to visit one often. They bring such peace! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment:)

Fay Favored from USA on August 24, 2014:

I have always admired this tree and wanted one. When I was a child I wrote a poem about this beauty. Thanks for all the information on its care. Maybe one day I'll get my tree.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2014:

Hi Audrey,

Since willows require a lot of water, we Californians rarely see weeping willows outside of botanical gardens and memorial parks. Such a shame!

I'm glad I can visit the one nearby throughout the seasons, as we know them here. After an unusually warm winter, I too feel the chill in the air as if it should be January. If it rains tonight, there will be snow in the foothills. We are so spoiled by our mild climate!

Thank you for your nice comments. I always enjoy seeing you here.

My best,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2014:

Hello Lisette,

Thank you for stopping by and for leaving your thoughtful comment. Willows with their hanging curtains of swaying branches are magical places. I've always felt secure beneath those limbs as if behind a cloak of invisibility. I can well understand their irresistibilty!

Wishing you a joyful Spring-

Cat:)

Audrey Howitt from California on April 01, 2014:

It feels as though we are starting winter here--but the rain is so welcome!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2014:

Hello Audrey,

Spring has been early this year, and the willow has already leafed out. I counted 14 frogs among the lily pads in the pond beneath it. Everything is waking up! The days have been beautiful as the buds break open and the garden is full of activity and backyard romance! Thank you for your kindness in sharing this and for your heartfelt comments- I appreciate it so much. Wishing you a glorious Easter and Spring-

Cat:)

Lissette from Central Florida on April 01, 2014:

This has always been my favorite tree. I have yet to meet one without planting my bottom right under it and twirling my fingers thru the branches and leaves. Wonderful!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 01, 2014:

We just don't have these trees in my neck of the woods--but I love them! Such a wonderful hub!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on April 01, 2014:

Just had to come back and linger awhile under my favorite tree. Voted again, completely across except for funny and sharing again too. I hope your days are as beautiful as your hub. ~ Audrey

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 15, 2014:

Hi Frank,

Thank you for your very nice compliment :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 15, 2014:

weeping willows are beautiful trees, shimmering and softly hushing our concerns with each breeze.. yeah a power packed line.. great article cat

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 14, 2014:

Thank you, Cam! I'm glad you stopped by. I appreciate it.

:)

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 14, 2014:

Thank you for all the great information about willows. The poem is great too. I think most people like willows, I know I do. I remember one along a pond where my father and I used to fish.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on November 24, 2013:

Hello Alicia. Thank you for your nice comments! Glad you like my poem and photographs. All of the best,

Cat:)

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 23, 2013:

The weeping willow is one of my favorite trees. I enjoyed reading this hub very much. The photos and the poem are beautiful!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on November 23, 2013:

Good morning, Leena, and thank you for dropping by to read and comment. I am happy that you enjoyed it!

Cat:)

Leena from new delhi on November 23, 2013:

Interesting read on the willow...the pictures are also beautiful.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on November 06, 2013:

Hi Kathi,

Glad to hear that Chad & Jeremy brought back good memories :) That willow near you should be shedding its leaves soon - I imagine it's beginning to get pretty cold! I've always wanted a willow tree, but they require too much water. It's nice to be able to visit the one at our nearby botanical gardens throughout the seasons. I hope you get some pictures of that tree- your photographs are always breathtaking! Thank you for the nice comments.

Cat:)

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on November 06, 2013:

Oh my gosh, I remember Chad and Jeremy, but haven't heard of them in years! Thanks for that memory Cat. Great article . . . there's an amazing willow near a pond down the road from me with geese hanging around all the time. I keep meaning to snap a shot. It still has all its green leaves and didn't realize that was normal for them! Lovely photos as well! Sweep vote, except funny . . . hee

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 10, 2013:

Hello precy anza,

I'm happy that you enjoyed this and appreciate your sharing it. Thank you for your kind comments! Take care.

Cat :)

precy anza from USA on October 09, 2013:

Beautiful! I'm always fascinated by weeping willow trees. :) Up and shared!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on July 13, 2013:

Hello prasetio30,

I so much appreciate your kind compliment and encouragement. Thank you for stopping by!

Cat :)

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on July 13, 2013:

Beautiful words. I am so happy to know this from you. Good job and voted up :-)

Prasetio

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on July 12, 2013:

Thank you, Genna. I've been so preoccupied with things outside of HP that I have been away from both writing and reading the work of other hubbers. I always appreciate seeing you here and receiving your thoughts and kind comments!

My best,

Cat:)

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 12, 2013:

This is so beautiful, Cat. I can't believe I missed this one. Voted Up and much more. :-)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on July 12, 2013:

It's nice to meet you, Audrey! I'm delighted that my comment to your Gene Krupa answer brought you here. He really broke the mold and influenced all that followed even though many today have never heard of him! I just told my daughter that my greatest pleasure in writing is finding out that my words have made a connection with the reader. Your thoughtful comment is very touching. Thank you!

Cat :)

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 12, 2013:

I must be a soul-mate to the weeping willow. I love all trees however the weeping willow has been my favorite my entire life. I get lost in it's beauty. It brings me peace within. And your poem describes this tree perfectly. I even have a tear or two as I read it for the 3rd time.

Up, awesome, beautiful and will pin and share.

Thank you ~ Audrey

(BTW - I found you in a forum when you commented on my "Gene Krupa" answer :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on June 02, 2013:

Hello b.malin,

I've been away from HP while caught up in my daughter's end of HS, graduation, and plans for college. Thank you for the thumb's up on my reflections of the weeping willow. I love them too! unfortunately, they require too much water to grow in my So. Calif. backyard. My best to you.

Cat :)

b. Malin on May 28, 2013:

I Love Weeping Willow Trees, and your Poem reflects such feelings oh so well Cat. My Votes of UP & Beautiful go to YOU!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 21, 2013:

Hello Rasma,

It's good to see you! Willows are such beautiful, graceful trees. Here in So. California where summer drought is a problem, they are, unfortunately, an impractical landscape choice unless at water's edge. I have to admire them at the nearby botanical gardens. Thank you for the sweet comment and your thoughtful votes.

My best,

Cat :)

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on April 21, 2013:

Voted up and beautiful. Enjoyed this. The willow in one of my favorite trees.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 18, 2013:

Hello Faith,

I am happy that you stopped by! Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing.

I appreciate it.

Take care!

Cat:)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 18, 2013:

Hello Blossom,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I love to capture my observations of nature with few words as you do so beautifully with minimal strokes of brush, ink, and paint.

So glad you stopped by!

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 18, 2013:

Hi Kathy,

I hope that Spring is showing signs of her impending arrival. I am sure you will be ready with your camera and talented eye! I'm pleased that you liked my description of the sensuous dance between the willow and the breeze. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. My best to you,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 18, 2013:

Hello Tom,

I hope all is well with you! This week's distressing news from the Boston Marathon makes me think of you and other fellow hubbers who may have been affected. I always appreciate your visits and your thoughtful, encouraging comments- so glad you found it enjoyable!

Take care!

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 18, 2013:

Hello whonu,

Thank you for the sweet comments! I 'm really happy to hear that the words and image brought you good feelings. I appreciate your stopping by. :)

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 18, 2013:

Very lovely!!!

Voted up +++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on April 18, 2013:

Such a sweet vignette.

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on April 18, 2013:

Short and sweet, sometimes, less is more! :O)

whonunuwho from United States on April 18, 2013:

I enjoyed the feeling I got receiving these words. Thanks for the cool breezes. whonu

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