photo credit By Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org [CC BY 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/deed.en) or CC BY 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Pause to appreciate the beauty around you.
Whether rainbow or butterfly,
mountain or tree, painting or poem -
whether crafted by nature or by a human hand -
beauty adds a magical element to life
that surpasses logic and science.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Salix bebbiana is a species of willow indigenous to Canada, and the northern US. It is typically a large , fast growing multiple stemmed shrub. It is a dominant species in the marshland area in its native range. On the prairies it grows on riverbanks, along streams, and in ditches, sloughs and lowland areas. Like all willows, it produces seed on a separate female plant. The seed has fine hairs that allows wind carried it to a new location. It also reproduces by from sprouting from the base of the stems, forming dense colonies of clones.
Willow roots are very aggressive in their search for water and are notorious for clogging sewer systems, drains and septic systems especially older ones made of concrete or tile. For this reason, willows are considered a poor choice for small city lots or close to plumbing or water supply lines
The twigs and branches were used by native Americans for basketry and arrow making. When this willow is infected by a fungus Valsa sordida it may develop cankers that produce a beautiful multicoloured diamond willow that is prized by woodworkers for its dramatic contrasting colours and shape.
Willows contain the very important compound, salicylic acid. This important plant hormone is the reason willow was used by ancient Egyptians, the Greek physician Hippocrates and the First Nations people as a pain killer and fever remedy. Salicylic acid is also a bactericidal and an antiseptic. It is a key ingredient in topical acne medications. It was isolated in its pure form from willow bark by the French chemist Henri Leroux in 1828. This led to eventually to the development of the well known medication called Aspirin. Salicylic acid is also one of the compounds that give willows the ability to root easily, and there are "teas" made from willow to enhance rooting of other plants.
This plant is a vital part of the food web supplying food for aphids, moths and butterflies as well as many animals. Bebb's Willow is an import an browse food for elk, deer and moose. Elk, moose and rabbits especially rely on this plant during the scarcity of winter. It provides import an cover for birds and small animals in winter. Willows provide an abundant source of pollen and nectar in early spring, a time when pollen and nectar are scarce. This plant is recognized as especially important for the supporting the lives of native bees and pollinators.
Bebb's willow is highly palatable to cattle and its protein content is equal to or higher than grasses in. mid and late summer and fall. Willow has traditionally been used for forage for cattle and investigation in New Zealand and Europe are undergoing for its use as fodder and silage.
Because of how rapidly they grow, with the need for little or no pesticides or herbicides, and their ability their regrow, willows are being used as biomass for wood chip heating and biofuels in Ireland and Europe.
Growing the Bebb's willow protects wetland and riparian zones on properties. It makes use of low lying areas to provide valuable habitat for wildlife and fodder for cattle. Willows can improve water quality due to their ability to uptake huge amounts of nitrogen and some phosphorus. They are being utilized and investigated for bioremdiation.
Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms