Willows have a huge number of uses.
Please note: this list is for your interest.
We are not experts on these uses and we
cannot supply you with further information. Please follow
the links we have supplied below, or use a search engine.
- landscaping - see our Landscape
Uses for Willows webpage
- hedges and screening - see webpage
- chairs, tables and other furniture - see basketry
- baskets, wastebaskets, lampshades, bicycle baskets -
see basketry webpage
- living willow structures - see our
- sculpture - see webpage
- cricket bats
- coffins for natural burials
- wattle fences, hurdles
- plant supports such as an obelisk, hoops, cage
- slope and streambank stabilization (bioengineering)
- see webpage
- windbreaks and shelterbelts
- snow fencing
- wildlife habitat
- fish and waterfowl protection
- wood chips
- artists charcoal
- medicinal uses; pain-killer was originally made from
- salmon, eel, lobster traps
- boats (the Welsh coracle was made of willow)
- noise barriers
- bees love the pollen
- biofiltration and wastewater treatment
- tool handles
- land reclamation and soil improvement
- constructed wetland
- phytoremediation (de-polluting contaminated soil)
- biomass energy (bioenergy)
- wands and brooms
- sweat lodges
- fiber plants
- wattle and daub (used in building construction)
- education of school children
- and last, but not least:
- want to know if you will be married? On New Year's
Eve, throw your shoe into a willow. If it doesn't
catch in the branches the first time, try eight more
times. If successful, you will soon be wed.
Brief discussion of items on the list above:
Windbreaks and shelterbelts - When
planted in a row formation, willows provide an effective
windbreak to protect crops and livestock. This can extend
the growing season and improve animal and plant growth.
It can also provide a buffer strip protecting sensitive
areas from agricultural run-off or silt deposition.
Because willows grow so fast, and are so tough, they make
excellent windbreaks even in extreme environments. They
are tolerant of exposed sites, coastal areas, and poor soil.
Under good conditions they should grow 2-3 meters (6-12')
in the first year from cuttings, and can grow up to 5m (16'+)
by the third year. Plant in double, triple or quadruple
rows and staggered to significantly reduce wind speeds,
even in winter. Later they may be thinned to provide materials
for a variety of purposes, as mentioned above.
It is recommended that windbreaks and hedges can be coppiced
(cut to approximately 50cm - 20" - or less above ground)
at the start of the second season. This will encourage thicker
growth lower down. Windbreaks will need no further attention,
though the plants may be trimmed as any other garden hedge
to maintain the size and shape desired.
Riverbank and slope stabilization
- on river banks the spreading mass of roots inhibits erosion.
See our webpage on Stabilization
for further info.
Fisheries - willows alongside pond or
stream provide shade and shelter for fish and water fowl
Wattle fences - make a woven dense or
open fence by weaving willow rods. Instructions can be found:
Wood chips - a mulch for playgrounds,
paths, animal bedding, soil conditioning, composting, weed
Goat fodder - harvest rods annually for
nutritious fodder for goats:
Willow catkins - some willows produce
huge numbers of catkins in early spring,
which attract pollinating insects when few other flowers
have emerged. They are therefore useful planted in orchards.
These catkins are also beautiful when cut and brought indoors,
where they will last for years if left undisturbed. See
our list of willows with particularly nice catkins on our
Willow Landscape Uses page.
Game cover - willow groves provide shelter
and protect birds and other wildlife
Artists' charcoal - today the finest artists'
charcoal is made from willow
Medicinal uses - willow leaf tea can
be used to help ease rheumatism and treat nervous insomnia
Plant supports - willow rods are also
useful for supporting perennial plants. Try making a geometric
mesh out of bent over rods to support plants such as delphiniums.
Live willow rods will root, so you may want to dry them
Noise barriers - Living 'willow-walls'
alongside freeways as noise barriers. They also help to
control dust and exhaust fumes. Willow-walls are very durable,
virtually vandal-proof and easy to maintain. They are constructed
by making a thick wall consisting of parallel willow logs
with a central core of soil. Green willow rods are used
to weave the sides and the rods root into the earth core.
Here is webpage
with instructions about a project alongside a freeway
in Quebec, and here are pictures on The
Living Wall website.
In the UK, many acoustical barriers have been created:
Green Barrier Projects.
Snow fence - Willow
Living Snow Fence along highway in NY State. With much
more info plus pictures (a rather large file): Capturing
the Snow with Fast Growing Living Willow Snowfences (there
are 10 in NY and there is a map with their locations).
Living willow structures
An exciting and creative use of willows is to make living
willow structures out of live willow rods (6-7') that are
put into the ground and woven together to make fedges, domes,
tunnels, tipis, garden arbours, mazes, and other shapes.
The rods root and leaf out, making a living structure. See
our webpage called Living
Education - many school projects can be
devised, eg. children plant the cuttings, and later harvest
for living willow structures, basketry and or charcoal for
Waste management - Willows are proving
to be a biological solution in the field of waste management.
They are used as a biological filtration systems to absorb
Willows break down and purify a variety of effluents such
as animal wastes from farming, human sewage and certain
industrial wastes. The effluent that is treated is not only
detoxified but also actually converted into valuable plant
material. For example, sewage is converted into willow,
which is then made into baskets, used as fuel, etc. Such
a simple solution!
Fast growing varieties such as S. viminalis, are usually
preferred as they have a greater capacity to absorb and
process the effluent being treated.
The second half of the movie mentioned under Noise Barriers
above, shows willows being used for waste management. Read
being done in Whitecourt, Alberta.
Terms to research in search engines:
- biofiltration willows
- biological filtration willows
- waste management willows
Land Reclamation and Soil Improvement
- the root action and abundant leaf litter of willows make
them very effective pioneers in improving the physical structure
and nutrient levels in the poorest of soils. Often they
are used in the first stage of rehabilitation, ultimately
improving conditions to allow a wider range of plants to
Willow for Fuel / Biomass Production
Biomass is the total amount of living matter produced in
a given area. Fast growing willows cut on a regular basis
produce more biomass than most other crops in the British
climate, providing an abundant source of fuel. Yields can
be as high as 20-30 tonnes of fresh material (or 10-15 dry
tonnes when dried) per hectare per year.
For fuel production the willows are cut every 3 to 5 years,
producing logs several inches in diameter suitable for wood
stoves. For willow logs cut on a 4-5 year cycle, plant with
1 per sq meter/yard or 10,000 plants per hectare. Plant
several rows over consecutive years so they can be harvested
For Producing Ethanol
The sugars in willow can be extracted to produce ethanol.
Gasoline is currently 15% ethanol. Engines are being developed
which run on 85% ethanol. Willows are the ideal plant to
produce the ethanol. Watch a
nice little video on willows being grown at Syracuse
University in New York state for this very purpose.