Coll The Coll Magazine

Article by Pat Graham (2000)

Talking Trees Year 2000
Talking Trees Year 2000

This is my final write up on the trees of Coll and I have left the most practical and easy one to grow to the last. This does not mean that throughout Coll there are no other trees to be found, as there are some very exotic ones like the cordaline australious and a couple of northofagus. Ornamental trees if cared for and in shelter have every chance of making it here, but can not be considered as the natural trees of Coll. The final one is the willow, or known by its latin name 'salix'.

There are over one hundred species of willow which grow throughout the world, and it was one of the first trees to grow after the ice age. The two native types on the island are the Eared Willow which is true to its name by having a little ear like leaf at the conjunction of the main leaf, and grows sometimes stunted but anywhere out of rocks, in exposed conditions, but they never grow very high. There are small scrub woods of them in the east end, on the road to the pier and on Fasach. The other is the Creeping Willow which is prostrate and tumbles and twists across the ground. Like its eared cousin it loves exposed sites and can be found coating rocks, and intermingled with the grasses of the headland. The leaf is oblong and a glossy rich green and can be confused with the leaf of the cranberry.

There are many other willows growing on Coll but the problem with most of them is that they have hybridised. They form two main groups which are the Sallows like the Eared Willow, and then the Osiers which are the long upright branched type with narrow leaves which have been used for basket making through the years. Gallanach have planted several different coloured types of Osier which will give a beautiful coloured stem in the Winter. When the sun shines in December these willows will change from colourless to a warm glow of purple, yellow, pink, violet and white.

There is one odd willow species although not normally grown in the Highlands of Scotland which seems to like Coll. This one is the Bay Willow which goes to about 30 feet high and has a strong glossy ovate leaf. A good example is growing on the side of the road at the Mill.

One cannot underestimate the uses for the willow, from using the wool of the catkins for medical purposes to coppice wood and their uses in making cricket bats and brake pads on hay carts.

If you wish to start off a small woodland in a damp area then the osier willows will be the best thing to plant. The cuttings take easily, just cut a two year old growth two foot long and push it into the ground about two thirds in and nature will do the rest. They grow quickly and will protect any other trees you may wish to grow. Willow draws water so never put one near your house thinking it will drink the water away, because it will encourage more dampness. The more you cut a willow the more it grows.

The wild life uses of willows are unending from the smallest of insects, and caterpillars to the willow warblers nesting in the branches and water rails in the exposed roots.

There is a craze in certain parts of the country now to make living structures out of willow because it lends itself to bending and weaving. The Osier has been planted to form domes, bowers, arches, tunnels, seats and woven fences, and the joy of them is that they become enchanted nooks and crannies for children and adults alike. The whole piece does not have to be living, but the basic three year old rods are planted into the ground and one year rods are woven into it.

There are many willows to be found in the garden centre, like the weeping willow which needs a lot of space, to the contorted types that are wonderful for flower arranging. My favourite is a woolly form which grows in a small silver dome. Unfortunately it does not like wet conditions so I have not brought that one to Coll.

Pat Graham
Coll Magazine - Article by Pat Graham

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2007 The Coll Magazine