Scientists help trust source true native willow species

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire have selected nine native species of willow to plant in a native tree arboretum at the Woodland Trust's nearby Heartwood Forest.

Salix pentandra - image: Malte (CC BY 3.0)
Salix pentandra - image: Malte (CC BY 3.0)

The 350-hectare forest includes a ten-hectare arboretum in which local volunteers have planted around 60 native trees and shrubs. Identifying species is notoriously hard in willows, and willows sold by plant nurseries are often hybrids rather than pure species, and lack the guarantee of UK origin that the Woodland Trust requires.

To find native British species to plant, the volunteers contacted the scientists at Rothamsted Research, who made cuttings from plants at the research station's National Willow Collection, one of the world's largest willow collections.

The volunteers planted cuttings of the nine species, including the eared willow (Salix aurita) and the bay willow (S. pentandra), in the arboretum in March and they are already sprouting vigorously.

Shrubby willows are now cultivated as a biofuel as they are fast-growing, have little requirement for fertilisers and pesticides, and respond vigorously to cutting. Rothamsted scientists are engaged in breeding more useful willow varieties by studying their genetics and biochemistry as part of its Cropping Carbon programme.

Rothamsted willow breeder Ian Shield said: "The long history of the National Willow Collection, and the scrutiny it has come under from experts in the field, allowed Rothamsted to provide examples of pure species of native willows.

"We were even able to help out with S. pentandra, a native species but which is difficult to source with known UK provenance, supplying an accession with a recorded history of being grown in the UK for 40 years."

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