Osier willows really come into their own during the winter. Their finer branches are a striking orangey red colour, and once the leaves are down, these are especially visible. In a grey, wintery landscape where most of the colours are washed out, osiers willows stand out, wild and flaming. They are all the more glorious because what’s around them lacks for colour.

When the leaves are down, many trees are harder to identify, especially for the tree novice. Osier willows are easier to identify at this time of year. Willows are generally tricky to tell apart from each other. According to The Woodland Trust there are some 60 hybrids of osier willow grown in the UK alone. There are many different kinds of willow, and many hybrids as well. They take some getting to know. Willows favour damp places, and have a very long history of use in human crafts and constructions.

I have no idea whether what I grew up calling ‘pussy willow’ is really grey willow, or goat willow, or something else entirely!

Willow is an amazing wood to work with; flexible, generous and fascinating. They are best harvested at this time of year when the sap is down, and can either be cut at ground level – coppicing – or cut at a higher point on the trunk – pollarding – as in the photo. Either way the cutting process means you get a lot of small stems the following year. If you pollard, then you have to keep doing it or the eventual weight of the many branches will tear the tree apart. The advantage of pollarding is that you can keep grazing livestock amongst the trees, benefiting from shade and shelter, but not eating all the new growth.


More about osier willows here - https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/osier/

Photo of osiers copyright Andrew Cleave.