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Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
On the Growth and Cultivation of Willows in Scotland

By William Scaling, Basford, Notts.
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THERE are only two species of willow that can be profitably grown as timber trees, Salix alba or the white willow, and S. fragilis or the brittle willow. In describing the above the same difficulty exists as in describing the varieties of basket willow, viz., that the species of willow is a subject of controversy. Under each of the names above I include several that are usually called species, but which thirty years' experience has convinced me are only varieties; but as I have been for some years collecting information upon this subject, with the view of ultimately making it known, it will perhaps be deemed sufficient if the varieties named are so described as to be clearly recognised.

The first and most important as a timber tree is the S. alba and its varieties. This species is conspicuous by reason of the soft silvery pubescence of its leaves. Other willows have the under side of the leaves covered with down, but no other willow has both the upper and under sides so distinguished. All the leaves are not so covered, but the young leaves found at the ends of the twigs or branches always are. This is characteristic. The leaves are small, lance-shaped, and finely serrated on the edges. The twigs of several of this group are beautifully coloured, from a deep carmine, to a rich orange colour. The wood is light and extremely tough, and for this purpose it is used by cricket bat makers, and for cutting boards, and other purposes where extreme toughness is required. The three best varieties of this class are the following:—S. alba or Huntingdon.—these are identical; S. sanquisea, or the Ardennes willow; S. coccinnea, the latest out, and the most beautiful. My experience of this tree only extends over a period of six years, and with the following results, in the trial (;round at Basford, Notts. At five years old it measures 24 feet high, and at 1 foot from the ground 23 inches in girth, in rich alluvial soil, and near running water.

The same variety of tree, in gravelly soil, at five years old, measures 19 feet high, and at one foot from the ground 18 inches in girth.

The same variety of tree, in peat and clay subsoil, at five years old, measures 21 feet high, and at I foot from the ground 20 inches in girth.

A tree of S. alba or Huntingdon, at eight years old, measures 35 feet high, and at 1 foot from the (;round 33 inches in girth, in rich alluvial soil, and near running water.

A tree of S. (alba or Huntingdon, in a dry gravelly soil, and planted same year, at eight years old measures 24 feet high, and at 1 foot from the (,round 23 inches in girth.

A tree of S. alba or Huntingdon, planted the same year in peat, with clay subsoil, at eight years old, measures 26 feet high, and at 1 foot from the ground 24 inches in girth.

The above trials confirm the opinion that I have long held, viz., that the soil best adapted for this species of willow is that found on the margin of streams. In page 1520 of Loudon's "Arboretum Britaniiicum," it is stated that a cutting planted by Mr Brown of Hetherset, Norfolk, became in ten years a tree of 35 feet in height and 5 feet in girth; and in the same work a tree is mentioned at Audley End, in Essex, of twenty years' growth, which was 53 feet high and 7 feet 6 inches in girth. A few years ago I saw six trees of the S. alba felled near Southwell, Notts, thirty-eight years of age, which yielded unitedly 232 feet of measurable timber, and which were sold on the spot at 1s. 2d. per cubic foot.

Lowe, in his Survey of the County of Nottingham, states that so very valuable are willows as plantation trees, that at eight years' growth they yield in poles a net profit of £214 per acre. He does not say that such an amount was actually obtained for the produce of an acre, and I am therefore disposed to think that the amount he names is considerably overstated. The variety named S. sanyuinea has not, that I am aware of, been tried in either England or Scotland as a timber tree, but it is extensively grown in the Ardennes, makes a very handsome tree, and is a very conspicuous object in the landscape; it is very hardy, and would stand the climate of Scotland. I have seen it in great perfection on the shores of the Baltic, and have introduced it here, but am not able to give the result of any trials. To grow this species of willow in perfection, it must be planted closely the branches grow nearly perpendicular, and have little spread. The cuttings should not be more than three feet apart each way, or 4840 cuttings to the acre. At the end of four or five years they should be thinned out to a quarter of that number, or 1210 and at twelve to sixteen years they may be again reduced to about 300 trees, which will leave ample space for their full development, and at thirty-six to forty years of age they will have attained to full perfection. If they are permitted to stand beyond this time they will rapidly deteriorate. The value of an acre of willow timber, at the most moderate computation, would not be less than £300 to £350, and the two thinings would have more than paid the entire cost of planting and subsequent management.

Willows for timber may be planted at a small outlay. It is only necessary to clear the land of rough weeds or brush, and if the ;round is soft enough to admit of the cuttings being pushed in, nothing more need be done. To make it better understood, it may be stated that all willows grow better from cuttings than they do from rooted plants. Although easy to grow, willows are precarious to transplant; and if I had a young plantation to remove, I should cut the roots entirely off, and push in the stem in the form of a cutting. This method of planting, when carefully done, and the ground well trodden down, is invariably successful. My plan is as follows:—Plant a piece of ground in the nursery with the sort of willow intended for trees, after the method advised for the planting of basket willows. At the end of the first year trim off all but the best grown twigs, or what is more effective, cut all off as in the case of basket willows. In the next crop the shoots will be clean, long, and straight. From this crop select all the best rods, sharpen the root ends, trios off all the laterals, leaving the top or lead untouched, mark out the ground at the proper distances, and in straight lines, and push the rods S or 10 inches into the ;round, tread firmly down, and the planting is completed ; and at the minimum of cost—with the advantage that every tree grown from such a beginning will be long, clean, and straight, and all that is required after this is to see that the young plantation is not overpowered by any rank undergrowth. This species of willow (S. alba) brows well in Scotland, and many very large specimens now exist. In the park at the west end of Glasgow there are a few very fine examples, which have long since seen their best. Many of the river banks and shady glens in Scotland are well adapted to the growth of this species of willow, and would yield a handsome return to the grower. The willow as a forest tree has never received fair treatment, probably because it bears more ill usage without being destroyed than other trees. It has been found of ,great service as a pollard, and is chiefly found in that humble position. No wood finds a more ready market, nor is any in greater demand. It possesses advantages which no other tree does; it is light, smooth, soft, and tough; it takes a high polish in the lathe, and it does not easily burn; it will bear more pounding and hard knocks without splinter or injury than the wood of any other British forest tree; it is the best wood for the floats of paddle-steamers, strouds of water-wheels, break blocks for railway coal and luggage trucks, sides and bottoms of carts or barrows, where great wear and tear are required; and were it grown as timber and easily obtainable, it would be used for very many purposes to which foreign timber is now applied.

The other species of willow named as a timber tree, S. frayilis, is also a vigorous grower, and will well repay the cultivator. The variety known as S. Pusselliana is undoubtedly the best ; but as it possesses no advantages over the 1S: alba, either iii its adaptability to the climate of Scotland, nor in the rapidity of its growth, I do not advise any one to plant it—firstly, because the timber it is not so tough, and will not sell for so great a price; and secondly, the spread of the branches is so much greater than that of S. alba that it requires at least double the space to grow in ; and thirdly, the branches are so brittle that after a high wind the ground is strewed with them, or the streams near where it grows are choked. For these reasons, and because it does not possess one valuable property as a tree that the S. alba does not possess in a higher degree, I do not advise any one to plant it with a view to profit.


Scotland is not distinguished as a willow-producing country, not because either the soil or climate is unsuitable, but because the subject has not received sufficient attention. Few countries in Europe of similar dimensions produce so small a quantity, or are so dependent upon foreign supply. The total area now under cultivation probably does not exceed 120 acres, and the year's produce would not supply the trade with more than a tenth part of its requirements. The deficiency is net by importations from Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, and England, the best dualities coining from England, chiefly the county of Nottingham, and the inferior from Germany and Holland. Willows for basket-making purposes, of large size, have been grown in Scotland, and prizes obtained for the same; and from personal observation I can testify that they can be grown of very excellent quality, and there is no reason why Scotland should not produce all she needs for her own consumption, and of a very superior quality to the greater part of what she now imports.

It is only within the last twenty years that willow cultivation has received the attention it deserves. Up to that time it was generally supposed that they would grow anywhere, and required neither care nor attention—"A willow was a willow and nothing more;" and it was thought only necessary to hush a few cut-tin s (collected at random), into any swamp or useless corner, and leave them to chance in order to obtain a crop ; and even now scores of water-logged patches are suffered to exist, with a few miserably starved willow stumps dotted about, the crops of which would not cover the cost of harvesting;, and yet there are few crops will yield a better return when properly managed. But in order to secure the best results many old and deeply rooted errors must be cleared away, not the least of which is that willows grow best in swampy undrained land.

The species of willows are very numerous, and Much confusion exists in their classification. There are, however, only about six species, with their numerous varieties, that are of any commercial value, or worth cultivating, with a view to profit. Three of those species are essentially basket willows, and the other three are adapted for poles and timber trees, and they differ so much in character and constitution, that the treatment and soils adapted for one are very unsuitable for the others.

The three forms or species of basket willows most in use are Salix viminalis, S. triandroa, and S. 2mg1mm°ea, and their numerous varieties, about sixty of which are in cultivation; but at least two-thirds of this number might be discarded with advantage to both grower and consumer.

As one of the conditions of this Report involves a description of the varieties recommended for cultivation, it must not be forgotten that the classification of the willow is not only a subject of dispute, but that it is in considerable confusion; and to enter into the minute details of the controversy would be impossible, within the limits of a short paper. It may therefore be considered sufficient if each form is so described that there can be no mistaking them.

Beginning with Salix viminalis, or the osier proper, the most important variety under consideration: This class may be easily distinguished by its long narrow leaf, widest near the base, but seldom exceeding three-quarters of an inch at its widest part; the leaves are slightly dentated at the edges, of loose texture, they are smooth above, and covered with a white, silky pubescence below, and are entirely destitute of stipules. The bark of the twigs is smooth to the touch and sweet to the taste. Between thirty and forty varieties of this species are now in my possession, differing much in the colour of bark, size of growth, toughness of wood, &c., but all may be known by the above description, and what is of equal importance, the description cannot be made to apply to any other species of willow. The six best varieties of the osier are known by the trades names of White osier, Brown osier, Merrins osier, Basford osier, Belgian osier, and Longskin osier, and this number is sufficient for all practical purposes of the basket-maker. The S. viminalis, or osier proper, is the best adapted of all willows to the rich soils found on river margins, where it is subject to occasional floods. It is a vigorous grower, very hardy, and must be well fed by the deposits of floods or by artificial irrigation, to maintain it in continued perfection; and it bids fair at no distant date to solve one of the questions of the present day, viz., the disposal of surplus sewage. Its capacity for absorbing the same has already been tried with success upon several sewage farms;--Northampton sewage farm may be named as a good example.

The next group of willows used in basket making is S. trianclrcc. It might be supposed that the name triandra was a sufficient guide to identification, but as the inflorescence of willows is too variable to be depended upon, a more simple and certain means of identification is necessary. There are a great number of varieties of this willow, more than twenty of which are under cultivation, but all may be easily recognised by the circumstance, that from three years old and upwards, they all annually shed their bark, and as this is not the case with any other willow, no one can fail to identify it.

The S. triandra yields the best results when planted in a rich loamy clay. It is a native of Northern Europe and very hardy in constitution. The wood is harder than the wood of the osier, and it is slower in taking root; but when it has obtained a good hold in suitable land, it will last longer without replanting, and under favourable conditions it is a very profitable willow to grow. The six best varieties to cultivate are known under the following trade names:--Brown Norfolk, Green Norfolk, Italian, Black German, Black Mule, and French.

The third group of basket willows, S. purpurea, is of more slender habit, and are more precarious to grow than those previously named ; indeed, it may almost be said that none but professional y ii low-growers can deal with them profitably. They grow well in sandy loans, and will do moderately well in a gravelly soil. There are more than twenty varieties of this group, but only two that grow well in Scotland, S puipncrea and S. Kithsii; the latter is known by nurserymen under the name of Whipcord. The demand for this willow is somewhat limited, and it cannot therefore be recommended for general cultivation.

Having noticed the sorts of basket willow, and the most suitable soils in which to plant them, such essential matters as are applicable to all remain to be noticed. One of the first, and most important is, that no willow intended either for poles, timber, or for basket-work, can be profitably grown in sour swamp, or in water-logged land; and the careful observance of this must be regarded as the first condition in successful willow cultivation. No reasonable amount of flooding nor of artificial irrigation will injure willows, provided the water can get away, and not remain to become stagnant.

Another matter of importance is the careful selection of cuttings. When forming a new plantation not only is it advisable to have the best kinds, but it is of espial importance to take care that there is no mixing of different varieties. Not only each species, but each variety, must be kept distinct; any mixture of sorts is fatal to success. Mixed basket willows, however food each sort may be, are of small value; besides, no two varieties grow precisely alike; one variety always overpowers the other, and uniformity of crop is destroyed.

Cuttings may be taken from either one or two year old twigs. If taken from one year olds, not more than three cuttings must be taken from any rod, however large it may be, for if large there is a. risk of the top not being sufficiently ripe to grow; but if taken from two year old twigs, they may be cut up to the extreme ,growth of the first year. The recognised length for cuttings is twelve inches; the thick ones may be an inch or two longer, and the thin ones an inch or two shorter. They should be cleanly cut, without any splinter, and with one stroke of the knife.

The trade price for cuttings is 10s. per 1000 for mixed or unselected sorts, and 15s. per 1000 for guaranteed sorts.

The number of cuttings per imperial acre should range from 20,000 to 30,000. Professionals often plant many more, but the extra care involved by so doing would not do for ,general practice.

The following table of distances at which cuttings may be planted will be found well adapted for general purposes:—

It is not always advisable to follow a Bard•and-fast rule in planting ; something in all cases must be left to the judgment of the planter. Therefore, in giving the above table of distances, it is with the idea, that a margin is left to the judgment of the person who has the work in Band. It may, however, be said that it is safer to err on the side of over close, than over-wide planting, when it is considered that the value of a basket willow depends more upon the twigs being long, straight, and clean, than it does upon their toughness and elasticity. All basket willows grow crooked, and covered with lateral twigs, when too much space is allowed; and for the sauce reason, they are not of much value when grown in long narrow screeds. To be good, they must be massed, and receive light and air from above, and not at the side.

In preparing the land for planting, much must be left to the superintendent of the work. Where steam power or horse power can be applied, it is cheaper than the spade, and quite as effective. The chief thing to insist upon is, that by whatever means it is done, the hard pan or subsoil must be broken up to a depth of 12 to 14 inches, and the surface brought into a good free mould before planting. The planting may be done at any time when the ground is free from frost, between the middle of November and the end of March. There are some advantages in early planting, but those advantages arise chiefly from having the work well in Band, for if deferred, the spring frosts may necessitate the work being done under unfavourable conditions ; but in so far as the ensuing crop is concerned, it is of very little importance. When the land is in suitable condition the cuttings are easily planted. The palm of the right hand should be protected by leather, for the purpose of pushing them down to the required depth; and when pushed in the soil must be firmly trodden around them, taking care not to bruise or bark them in so doing. Many cuttings die from this being imperfectly clone. I regard this as of so much importance, that I always appoint one man to attend to it, and at the same time to see that the work is neatly and uniformly- done. The whole operation is simple; each man will plant from 2000 to 3000 cuttings in a day, when lie has got used to the work.

After planting, the land must be kept clear of weeds. This is especially important for the first two years, after which time less attention will suffice. But it must not be forgotten, that if a profit is to be made by growing willows, they must not be allowed to struggle for their existence against weeds.

The first or maiden crop of willows is seldom of much value but however poor the crop may be, it must be harvested or cut off; for if it was allowed to stand over until the second year, the united produce of the two years would be nearly worthless. If the first year's crop be carefully cut, without disturbing the rooted cuttings, the second crop will be of considerable value, from which time there will be a gradual increase of value up to four or five years; and should all circumstances be favourable, a plantation of S. viminalis should last without re-planting fifteen to twenty years, and a plantation of S. triandra twenty to twenty-five years, and a plantation of S. purpurea fifteen to twenty years. All willows for basket work should be cut as early in the winter as possible after the leaf has fallen. The knife used for cutting is shaped like a sickle, but not so large in the circle, and in using it, the cut is made from the ground upward, the left arm encircling, and the hand grasping the twigs whilst the cut is made. The grass and weeds must be shaken out of the twigs, before they are tied into bundles. If the grass and weeds are not shaken out, the willows are apt to mildew.

The size of bundle that is most convenient for moving about is 36 inches in circumference at the band. The bundles must be tightly tied, and the band should be twelve inches from the root ends. The appearance of the willows is much improved by neat and uniform tying, and extra care in this operation will not be thrown away when they are offered for sale. As soon as tied, they should be carried off the ground, and stood on end; and in this state they are ready for market.

The entire outlay for willow planting, under ordinary circumstances, may be stated at £25 per acre for Salix viminalis, £30 per acre for S. triandra, and £35 per acre for S. puqurea, and when let by contract this is the usual price.

The current expenses attending cultivation will he as follows, under ordinary conditions:—

The value of willow crops will range from £10 to £20 per acre, according to the state of trade, and the seasons. Occasionally they are worth more than twice that amount. But I should not advise any one about to. plant, to base their calculations upon extreme profits, lest disappointment ensue. A. good return for the outlay may be relied upon in the average of years, and it may safely be said that few if any crops will give better results, provided the rules here laid down are duly observed.

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