Salix fragilis

This willow draws its odd name from a curious property of its twigs. If you bend them back they split off suddenly at the base, giving a sharp and clearly audible crack. This makes identification easy, but Crack willow can also be distinguished by the bright, smooth, orange-brown bark of the twigs, and its mid-green, slender leaves that lack the white down of the White willow. Crack willow forms a medium-sized tree that can often be found growing naturally along watersides. It is hardly ever planted for its timber is britde and useless, and it has few decorative merits.

Crack willows usually have a straggling much-branched crown like the tree illustrated, and this is apparendy due to the frequent breakage of their twigs. But this strange feature has one advantage in the tree's struggle for survival, for every twig that breaks off is a natural cutting - twigs that get carried downstream often become stranded on mudbanks or stretches of shingle and take root there. Crack willow can therefore spread by detached twigs as well as by seed.

An odd feature of many streamside willows is that some of their roots grow in water, not soil. You may see them as feathery pinkish clusters, trailing in the river, to gather both water and dissolved nutrients.

Winter twig of male tree, with catkin buds (X;); single bud (X5).

Note tapering tip.

FIGURE 97

Winter twig of female tree, with catkin buds (x{); single bud (X4). Note that female buds have blunt tips.

Crack Willow Twig

figure 9s

Leafy twig of female Crack willow, flowering in June (Xf). Single female flower, consisting of hairy bract two bi-lobed stigmas, stalked ovary, and nectary (X7).

figure 99

Leafy twig of male Crack willow, flowering in [une (xj). Single male Bower, consisting of hairy bract, two stamens, and nectary (xG).

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