This shrub is very valuable; as its leaves are eaten by horses, cows, sheep, and goats ; its pliant twigs are woven into putcheons ; wheels for taking eels; and into bird-cages: the branches are much used for making hoops, and large baskets. Farther, it forms a hardy and useful hedge for excluding boisterous winds ; and, as it flourishes in wet situations, is frequently planted, with a view to prevent the banks of rivers from being washed away by the force of the current.
On account of these valuable properties, osiers have deservedly, become an object of public attention ; and, in consequence of the liberal premiums offered by the Society for the Encouragement of' Arts, etc. we are enabled to specify such of the numerous varieties as deserve to be preferably cultivated'
Osiers are divided into two classes: osI classes : the first is known by their more blunt, and downy or mealy leaves; which, in the other, are more pointed, smooth, and green, resembling those of the myrtle.
The first class contains, according to the statement of Mr. Phillips (Transactions of the Society, Sec. vol. 16), nine or ten varieties, the best of which is denominated the Grey or Brindled Osier.- It varies from the others only in its bark being streaked with a red or blood-colour. The grey osier thrives vigorously on fenny lands ; is very hardy and tough ; and, having a white glossy surface, is peculiarly adapted for cradles, and the finer kinds of basket-work.- The other varieties of this class vegetate in the dampest soils, and flourish even on the most barren kinds of peat; but, being coarse, brittle, and decaying speedily, they will not answer the expence of planting, unless in the vicinity of navigable canals : besides, they are fit only for the coarsest baskets and hampers ; and will not pay the expence- of hind-carriage.
To the second class belong : 1. The Welch Osier, which is both red and white, and was originally cultivated in Wales. It forms an useful part of a plantation ; being well calculated for tying the bunches or bundles after the rods have been peeled and bleached. Nor is it less serviceable for binding bundles or sheaves of reeds for thatching; though it is extremely bitter, and refused by every kind of cattle, unless the animals are compelled to cat it from hunger.- The Welch osiers are very pliant and tough; and, if they could be perfectly bleached, would not be inferior to the best sorts, for manufacturing baskets. Hats have a particular aversion to this variety; and, though every other species of bandage be subject to their devastations, they never touch those bundles which are tied with Welch osiers:- the application of this practical fact, to the purpose of expelling those de-. predators from granaries, deserves the attention of farmers and corn-dealers.
2. The West Country Spaniard is thus denominated ; because it was first introduced into the western counties of England, from Spain. This variety flourishes in every soil, and attains a considerable size ; its bark being of a blueish-grey colour. Although it does not thrive so luxuriantly as the Welch osiers, yet Mr. Phillips deems it worthy of" cultivation ; having ascertained by experience, that one acre of land, will more fitly contain 14,000 plants of the Spanish kind, than 12,000 of the next following.
3. The -New Kind, is a variety generally known and cultivated. It is divided into two sorts, viz. the best, and the inferior new kind:. the bark of the former is of a light-. brown shade, while that of the. latter resembles rusty iron, having light longitudinal streaks, whence it has received the appellation of Corderoy. This variety flourishes-0n mellow land: on account of its-luxuriant vegetation, it requires considerable space to receive nourishment, and the influence of the sun ; so that the number planted seldom exceeds 11,0O0 per acre.
4. The French Osier is the most valuable of the numerous varieties. It is preferred to every other, for. making the smallest and finest baskets, hats, fans, and other light articles : for which purposes considerable quantities were imported a few years since from France
Holland, and Flanders ; because the manufacturers could thus obtain them at a cheaper rate, than if they had been planted in England. The French osiers are of slower growth, than any other sort of this shrub: hence planters are not inclined to cultivate them ; as the small profits are inadequate to the ground-rent and price of labour in England. This variety, nevertheless, deserves to be reared ; for it is extremely pliable, tough, taper, close-grained, and durable : though it be less profitable to the cultivator, it is certain of meeting with a more ready sale. Besides, considerable sums of money, which must otherwise be carried out of the country, would thus be annually saved to the nation, and employment might be furnished to numerous indigent families.
Osiers are propagated by planting slips or foot-sets in wet or marshy situations : they should be put in the ground shortly after Christmas; because the plants will be less liable to fail, than if the setting were deferred til! the end of April, or the commencement of May. When the soil is sufficiently dry, it will be advisable to scatter a small quantity of cole-seed, or with more advantage, turnip-seed, that will serve as a shelter to the young plants ; but either of which ought to be grazed with sheep about Michaelmas; because it will then grow so large as almost to choak the osiers. In the course of three or four years, they will have attained a size sufficient to be cut, and formed into bunches or bundles, by compressing them in an iron hoop of one ell in circumference eighty of such bundles constitute a load, the price of which varies from 12 to 141. The best soil usually produces one load per acre; but, on an indifferent or poor ground, half a load is computed to be a tolerably good crop. — The rent of the land, upon an average, is from 20 to 25s. per acre ; and the expence of weeding, renewing, cutting, and peeling, such a plantation, is estimated at about 5l. if the work be well executed. Some careless cultivators, however, suffer the ground to be over-run with weeds, in consequence of which the value of the crop is necessarily diminished.