Willow in the midst of things.

Willows are all around, at the edge the paths and banks , they perch on the edges they often form a backdrop to a walk.

The flowers are early in the year, pussy willows are a cheery sight as spring pushes forward. These early flowers are important for insects. On a sunny early spring walk the pussy Willow is alive with bees , flies and other flying insects feeding and pollinating.

The willow is the centre of an intricate web of food and survival ,which as we wander past on our walks isn’t obvious. This week I noticed that a patch of willows seemed a little ragged and stopped to investigate further. The leaves certainly looked attacked !

On closer inspection I noticed a large number of shiny green beetles.

These are willow leaf beetles (Plagiodera versicoloura)these hibernating adults appear with the emergence of the new willow leaves. Another beetle, Blue willow beetle ( Pharatora vulgatissima) also eats the leaves.

These beetle are part of an intricate food web supported by the willow tree. Take a look at this diagram. It is a pyramid of numbers , the willow tree is second up , look at the number of animals supported by the tree.

The tree, it’s leaves and flowers are involved In an intricate mechanism of survival.

This diagram shows a simple food web based on The willow.

When you look at a table to See how Many species of insects are supported by a tree the willow is right at the top under the oak . The numbers are very impressive.

Looking closely at the willows on this walk there were some tiny caterpillars, too small to identify. Butterflies that use the willow as a larval food plant are; the rare Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) the caterpillars feed on goat willow and lay eggs in grey and crack willow. Also the Camberwell Beauty , the Comma and the large Torroiseshell use willows as a food plant.

They are also eaten by moths including the Sallow Kitten, Sallow Clearwing,Lunar Horner Clearwing and the Dusky Clearwing.

These leaves seem a very popular food plant. The top five food plants for butterflies and moths are;English Oak, Willow species, Birches, Hawthorn and Blackthorn and of course Nettles.

A patch of nettles in the garden can increase biodiversity and is a food plant for several large butterflies.

I didn’t see any large caterpillars yet but will be keeping my eyes out as the month progresses.

I did spot this interesting invertebrate sitting on a leaf.

On further inspection the twigs were also covered in cuckoo spit which is the cover for developing froghoppers , sap sucking bugs. This Willow seems attacked on all fronts !

The birds were flitting in and out of the reeds and the willows.

This is a causeway between two large lakes and the swallows were diving and skimming all around us. There were reed warblers moving in and out of the reeds, almost impossible to track them with your eyes let alone the camera !

There is so much happening at a willow tree, birds associated with willow include the Willow Tit (Poecile Montana’s) this is listed as a red species. It is found in wetlands and areas of willow including gravel pits, which is the type of area near to us.

Willow warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus) is a summer visitor arriving from March. They eat insects, spiders , fruits and berries. Their eggs are so tiny that a clutch of three only weighs the same as a one pence piece !!

Along with all the animals associated with the Willow let’s not leave out Willows and people.

  • The compound in Aspirin comes from the bark of willow.
  • Fishing nets used in 8300BC were made of woven willow.
  • Some traditional Welsh coracles used willow for their frame.
  • Cricket bats are made of willow.
  • The wood is used to make boxes, broom, handles and many other everyday objects.
  • Willow wood can be used to make rope and string.
  • I will finish this tour of the wonderful willow with a scene from Wind in the Willows. I think a picnic rather like Ratty and Mole under a willow next to the river would be perfect !

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