15 March 2009

Goat willow Sunday

The goat willows (Salix caprea) in Brede High Wood and elsewhere in our part of East Sussex have come into flower quickly with the sudden advent of warm weather.  The picture below is of a male, pollen bearing tree.

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This species is also know as great sallow, palm and sally.  It was the tree that poet John Clare was referring to when he wrote: "Ye leaning palms, that seem to look/Pleased o'er your image in the brook" and 'sally' features in Yeats's poem Down by the Sally Gardens, this, I think, referring to a place where sallows, willows and osiers were grown for basket making.

The term 'palm' came about because the sprays of flowers were used in the British Isles on Palm Sunday ceremonies as a substitute for real palms.  This year Palm Sunday is on 6th April, by which time most of the goat willow will have finished, but there will surely be other willow species that will fit the bill.

Sallows are very important for insects that fly in late winter and early spring and the trees can often be heard 'humming' as the insects fly from catkin to catkin.  At night they are often crowded with moths.

Today it was encouraging to see large numbers of honey bees in attendance.  Many of these were taking nectar and pollen from catkins that had fallen to the ground: the last of the winter wine.

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