We have a number of species of willow trees in our area, but the most common is the Black Willow. There are very few willow trees along the banks of the Kentucky River most can be found along small streams or pond banks, like the beaver pond.
Black Willow, Salix nigra Marsh.
Salicaceae -- Willow family
J. A. Pitcher and J. S. McKnight
Black willow (Salix nigra) is the largest and the only commercially important willow of about 90 species native to North America. It is more distinctly a tree throughout its range than any other native willow; 27 species attain tree size in only part of their range. Other names sometimes used are swamp willow, Goodding willow, southwestern black willow, Dudley willow, and sauz (Spanish). This short-lived, fast-growing tree reaches its maximum size and development in the lower Mississippi River Valley and bottom lands of the Gulf Coastal Plain. Stringent requirements of seed germination and seedling establishment limit black willow to wet soils near water courses, especially floodplains, where it often grows in pure stands. Black willow is used for a variety of wooden products and the tree, with its dense root system, is excellent for stabilizing eroding lands.
Black willow is found throughout the Eastern United States and adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico. The range extends from southern New Brunswick and central Maine west in Quebec, southern Ontario, and central Michigan to southeastern Minnesota; south and west to the Rio Grande just below its confluence with the Pecos River; and east along the gulf coast, through the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia. Some authorities consider Salix gooddingii as a variety of S. nigra, which extends the range to the Western United States (3,9).
The wood is light (specific gravity 0.34 to 0.41), usually straight grained, without characteristic odor or taste, weak in bending, compression, and moderately high in shock resistance. It works well with tools, glues well, and stains and finishes well but is very low in durability.
The wood was once used extensively for artificial limbs, because it is lightweight, doesn't splinter easily, and holds its shape well. It is still used for boxes and crates, furniture core stock, turned pieces, table tops, slack cooperage, wooden novelties, charcoal, and pulp.
Black willow was a favorite for soil stabilization projects in the early efforts at erosion control. The ease with which the species establishes itself from cuttings continues to make it an excellent tree for revetments.
Ancient pharmacopoeia recognized the bark and leaves of willow as useful in the treatment of rheumatism. In 1829, the natural glucoside salicin was isolated from willow. Today it is the basic ingredient of aspirin, although salicyclic acid is synthesized rather than extracted from its natural state.