Common osier, also known as willow and (Salix viminalis), is a deciduous tree and is native to the United Kingdom, Europe and parts of Western Asia. |
The common osier is commonly found in damp and wet conditions, ideally near streams and rivers. This species of willow grows very fast and was regularly cultivated for many years for its bendy shoots. The shoots were then used to make things like sculptures and woven baskets, along with similar products.
Osier Tree Identification
A full grown tree will reach a high of 7m. It has brown to grey bark and has many vertical fissures running down it. The smooth twigs are green to yellow in colour. Leaves are thin, green and shiny with tiny silver hairs on the underside, they are very long and measure 20cm x 1cm.
Common osier trees are dioecious, that means male and female reproductive parts are located on different osiers. The flowers are catkins. Females are green while the males are yellow; they form before the leaves, during winter to early spring. After pollination, the female catkins turn into small fruits enclosed in a capsule, which open to release its seeds once matured.
Interesting fact: 60 types of osier hybrids and cultivated variations are grown especially for the basket making industry in Britain.
Significance to Wildlife
The tree supports many insects, birds and small mammals. Caterpillars from many species of moth feed on the leaves such as the herald, lackey and red-tipped clearwing. Birds make use of the twigs and branches which makes a particularly good nesting site. Bees and other pollinating insects collect pollen and nectar from the catkins and is usually and important source for them. Myths and Legends
The osier is not commonly associated with any myths or legends. There is however a custom in Suffolk (Chediston) where they strip willow from the tree, known as the ‘willow stripping ceremony’. A George figure dresses up in willow stripping’s, dances around and then gets thrown into a pond usually during the full moon in May.
How We Use Osier
The osier has bendy and flexible stems, known as ‘withies’ and were used to weave baskets. They are used for garden screening purposes and also for use in living sculptures. The same as all willows, osier can absorb metals from the ground and is regularly planted on contaminated wasteland to help clean it up.
Osier trees can be prone to watermark disease, which causes the upper branches near the crown to turn from brown to red and wilt. This eventually causes the leaves to turn red and the branches to dieback.
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