This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Though a marsh plant, there are no traces of this tree in ancient deposits. It is found in the N. Temperate Zone in Europe, N. and W. Asia, and has been introduced in N. America, but is said not to be indigenous except in N.W. Asia. In Great Britain it is absent in N. Devon, E. Kent, Bucks, E. Suffolk, Hunts, Monmouth, Pembroke, Cardigan, Flint, Derby, Mid Lancs, Isle of Man, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Fife, Mid Perth, N. Perth, N. Aberdeen, Banff, W. Highlands, except Clyde Islands, Cantire, N. Ebudes, N. Highlands, North Isles, but occurs elsewhere from Ross to the South coast. It grows at 1300 ft. in Northumberland. It is not native in Scotland or Ireland or the Channel Islands.
The occurrence of the Crack Willow in any locality indicates moist, damp ground, whether it be a marsh, the margin of a pool, pond, or lake, or the side of a ditch, stream, or river. Wherever it grows it is a hygrophyte, loving moist conditions, and it is normally a lowland plant.
This tree may be recognized at a distance by its tall trunk, slightly listing, with widely-spreading branches, incurved upwards, thus affording ample shelter in spite of its small leaves. The plant has the tree habit. The tree is often 90 ft. in height, and in girth 10 ft. The branches spread obliquely, and are round, polished, smooth. The twigs become easily broken (hence fragilis). They are yellowish-brown The leaves are lance-shaped to elliptic, long and narrow -pointed, hairless, glandular, toothed, bluish-green below or pale. The young leaves are hairy. The stipules or leaflike organs are half heart-shaped, and are deciduous, soon falling. The leaf-stalk is glandular at the tip. The catkins are spreading, stout, inversely egg-shaped, lance-shaped, hairless, stalked, and appear with the leaves. There are usually 2 stamens, rarely 3-5, longer than the scales. The style is short. The stigma is of the same length, and 2-lobed. The capsule is stalked, hairless, the ovary awl-like.
Photo. W. Bell - Crack Willow (Salix Fragilis, L.)
The Crack Willow is 15-50 ft. or even 90 ft. in height, flowering in April and May. It is a perennial deciduous tree propagated by seeds.
The flowers differ little from wind-pollinated flowers, but the kindred species S. caprea, S. aurita, etc, have special structures for various insect visitors in spring to produce cross-pollination. In the first place, the crowded flowers in one catkin make it conspicuous, and more readily and quickly sucked by bees than if separate. As in other diclinous insect-pollinated flowers, the male flowers are more conspicuous than the female, owing to the bright-yellow anthers. Secondly, the appearance of the flowers before the leaves, makes the flowers more conspicuous; and thirdly, the large store of honey and pollen; and fourthly, the early flowers, which lead many bees to feed almost entirely on them, ensure their fertility. The power of secreting honey is the only feature developed to attract insects, and ensures cross-pollination, the unisexual flowers preventing self-pollination. The majority of diclinic insect-pollinated flowers, such as Asparagus, Ribes nigrum, Lychnis vespertina, have become diclinic by degeneration of the hermaphrodite flower, but in Salix it is inherited from the primitive Angiosperms, which were probably diclinic and wind-pollinated. The plant is visited by bees, etc, flies, beetles, Lepidoptera.
The seeds are fringed with hairs which assist in wind-dispersal.
Crack Willow is a peat-loving plant, growing in peat soil.
A fungus, Melampsora vitellinae, especially attacks Crack Willow, which is galled by Nematus gallicola very frequently.
Other fungi which attack willows generally are Capnodium, Botryo-sphaeria, Rhytisma, Cryptomyces, Psilocybe, Hypholoma, Flammula, Pholiota, Pleurotus, Collybia, Trametes, Fomes, Polyporus, Diplodina. Crack Willow is galled also by Cecidomyia saliceti, C. terminalis, Cryptocampus medullarius, Enura angusta.
The beetles which attack willows are of many different kinds, such as Carabus, Badistes odes, Homalota, Ptinella, Platynaspis, Soronia,
Tiresias, Sinodendron, Ludius, Corymbites, Helobium, Ptilinus, Rhopalodontus, Aromia, Cerambyx, Lamia, Saperda, Lema, Cryptocephalus,
Phytodecta, Plagiodera, Luperus, Lochmcea, Galeruca.
Two Hymenoptera that frequent willows are Megachile willough-biella, M. circumcincta, and Colletes and Andrena are found on Sallows, and Nematus salicis on willow.
The Satin Moth (Liparis salicis) and the Double Kidney (Tethea retusa) are two moths common on Crack Willow, which is also attractive to the Eyed Hawk Moth, Goat Moth, Puss, Swallow Prominent, White Satin, Lappet, Herald Moth, Copper Underwing, Red Under-wing, Chocolate Tip, Dark Dagger, Early Thorn, Small Emerald, Common Pug, Small Seraphim. Several Heteropterous insects infest willows, as Plesiocoris rugicollis, Lygus limbatus, Aetorhinus angulatus, Orthotylus diaphanus, O. flavinervis, O. marginalis, Psallus albicinctus, P. sanguineus, P. salicellus, Plagiognathus roseri, Drymus pilipes, and Homoptera, Aphrophora salicis, Hybos smaragdula, Idiocerus adustus.
Salix, Pliny, is Latin for willow, and the second Latin name refers (as does the English Crack Willow) to its brittle boughs and twigs.
It is called Crack Willow and Snap Willow; and as to the last a writer speaks of: "The Snap Wallow which is so brittle that every gale breaks off its feeble twigs".
The willow was the symbol of sadness, garlands being worn by forsaken lovers. Willows are weak, but bind other wood. Unhappy lovers had garlands of willow placed on their biers. In Baireuth young girls are said to go at midnight on Easter Day to a fountain silently, and, taking care to escape notice, throw into the water little willow rings, with the names of their friends inscribed thereon; that which sinks first indicating the one first to die.
The catkins were called Goslings, and children singed them brown, repeating verses the while. The willow was said to be the rod with which Christ was scourged. With knots tied in a willow one could slay a distant enemy, was one belief, and if one tied three knots in an old willow one could cure ague. The trees are pollarded, the branches being cut down every five or six years. The timber is used for fencing, poles, casks, etc. The bark is used for tanning.
Essential Specific Characters:284. Salix fragilis, L. - Tree tall, twigs brittle, leaves glabrous, lanceolate, serrate, glaucous, whitish below, catkins on short branches, 2 stamens, with style as long as the stigma.