Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Common Names: Weeping Willow, Babylon Willow, Chinese: 垂柳


The Salix babylonica is a species of willow, which is native to dry areas of northern China, but cultivated for millennia elsewhere in Asia, being traded along the Silk Road to southwest Asia and Europe.[1] Willows all have abundant watery bark sap, which is heavily charged with salicylic acid, a main active ingredient in many over the counter acne medications, as well as 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 Weeping Willow is one of the fastest growing shade trees. With a growth rate of 8-10 feet a year.[2] It can be grown in most of the United States and adapts well in many soil conditions.

Physical Characteristics/Taxonomy

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Scientific classification
S. babylonica
Binomial name Salix babylonica


Salix babylonica is a medium- to large-sized deciduous tree, growing up to 20–25 m tall. It grows rapidly, but has a short lifespan, between 40 to 75 years.[3]

The shoots are yellowish-brown, with small buds.

The leaves are alternate and spirally arranged, narrow, light green, 4-16 cm long and 0.5-2 cm broad, with finely serrate margins and long acuminate tips; they turn a gold-yellow in autumn.

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 10, 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 square, entire, and very hairy. The anthers are rose-colored in the bud.

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.

Scales, caterpillars, borers, aphids, and gypsy moths are commonly known to cause harm to the weeping willow.[4]

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Male flowers of Salix babylonica

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Pendulous branchlets of Salix babylonica

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Bark of Salix babylonica

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Leaves of Salix babylonica

Meet the Relatives

Wooly Willow (Salix lanata)external image 220px-Salix-lanata-total.JPG

The woolly willow, is a subarctic species of willow native to Iceland, northern Scandinavia, Finland, and through to eastern Siberia and can generally be found on rocky mountain sides at altitudes
between 600–900 m[5]

Salix lanata is a low, many-branched, deciduous shrub, generally less than 100 cm high by 150 cm broad.

The new twigs are hairy at first, soon becoming hairless and brown.

The gray-green leaves are rather variable, but generally ovate up to 7 cm long by up to 6.5 cm wide, covered in silvery-grey "wool" to begin with but less so with age.

The catkins appear in summer, with male and female catkins on separate plants (like all willows this species is dioecious).

The female catkins are densely hairy. The petioles are usually less than 1cm long, and the stipules usually 1cm long by 0.6cm wide, and persistent

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Upper surface of leaf, also showing stipules

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Leaf petiole

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Female catkin

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Salix lanata leaves

Magical Usage

Whomping Willow

The Whomping Willow is a fictional tree from the Harry Potter universe. It is a very valuable, yet very violent species of magical plant. Whomping Willows attack anyone and anything that comes within range of its branches. A deciduous plant, its limbs function as arms and any damage to them must be treated in much the same way. The most famous Whomping Willow is the one planted on the grounds of Hogwarts. The Whomping Willow was planted around the year 1971 to disguise the opening of a secret passage leading from the Hogwarts grounds to the Shrieking Shack in the village of Hogsmeade. It had a small knot near the base. When that was pressed, the tree would become immobilized. This allowed Remus Lupin to travel unnoticed to and from the Shrieking Shack, where he was able to undergo his transformation as a werewolf in privacy.[6]

Muggle Usage


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 fifth century BC. Native Americans across the Americas relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments. It temporarily relieves headache, stomachache, and other body pain[7]


Some of humans' earliest manufactured items may have been made from willow. Willow wood is also used in the manufacture of 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 and whistles. In addition, tannin, fibre, paper, rope and string can be produced from the wood.[8]

Erosion Prevention

The willow tree is renowned for its ability to grow durable and large root systems very quickly. Used for centuries in England as part of living fences, these trees can create natural, sturdy nets in the soil. Willows are super root producers, and grow large root systems very quickly. When rocks are placed on a stream bank to prevent erosion, the willows can grow in between the rocks, holding them together. Willow poles driven into the stream bank will actually begin to grow roots and hold the soil together. When the plants grow leaves, their foliage will also slow down any rain that falls, slowing the entry of water into the creek.[9]


Although the Salix babylonica is native to the dry areas of northern China, other types of Willows, sallows, and osiers form the genus Salix which include around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, are found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Continents of the Northern Hemisphere

  • all of Europe
  • all of North America, Central America and the Caribbean
  • the vast majority of Asia, except East Timor and Indonesia (mainly in Southern Hemisphere)
  • about 2/3 of Africa, just above the "horn"
  • 1/10 of South America, north of the mouth of the Amazon River.
external image 800px-Hemisferio_Norte.png


Origin: China, not Babylon

The epithet babylonica in this Chinese species' scientific name (S. babylonica), as well as the related common names "Babylon willow" or "Babylon weeping willow", derive from a misunderstanding by Linnaeus that this willow was the tree described in the Bible in the opening of Psalm 137.

  • "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion
  • On the willows there we hung up our lyres...."
Despite these Biblical references to "willows", the trees growing in Babylon along the Euphrates River in ancient Mesopotamia are not willows in either the modern or the classical sense, but the Euphrates poplar (Populus euphratica). Although both Populus and Salixare in the plant family Salicaceae, the willow family, these Babylonian trees are correctly called poplars.This error was corrected in the New International Version of the Bible in 1978.


"Genus **Salix (willows)**". Taxonomy. UniProt. Retrieved 2013-04-21.





  1. ^ http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200005760
  2. ^

  3. ^

    "Genus **Salix (willows)**". Taxonomy. UniProt. Retrieved 2013-04-21.
  4. ^

  5. ^

    Willows and Poplars of Great Britain and Ireland, BSBI Handbook No. 4; Meikle; 1984.
  6. ^

  7. ^

    James Breasted (English translation). "The Edwin Smith Papyrus". Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  8. ^

    The palaeoenvironment of the Antrea Net Find The Department of Geography, University of Helsinki
  9. ^