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Salicaceae: Willow Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Plants of the Willow Family

      It would be hard to miss the Willow family. You can usually find either willows, aspens, cottonwoods or poplars along any stream, lake or mountain meadow. Botanically, the Willow family consists of bushes and trees with simple, alternate leaves. The flowers are unisexual with male and female flowers appearing in catkins on separate plants (dioecious). The sepals are greatly reduced or absent, and there are no petals. Male flowers have 2 or more stamens. In the pistillate (female) flower, the ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 to 4 united carpels (syncarpous) forming a single chamber. It matures as a capsule, usually with silky "cotton" to help transport the seeds by air. Worldwide, there are 2 to 3 genera and 350 to 500 species.

      Medicinally, the Willow family is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent and diuretic. The members of this family contain varying amounts of the simple phenol glycosides populin, salicin and methyl salicylate from which the common aspirin was originally derived. These properties are strongest in the inner bark, but are also present in the leaves. Like aspirin, the willow family is used for fevers, headaches, arthritis and other inflammations, particularly in the urinary tract. Unfortunately, the presence of tannic acid in the bark makes it difficult to ingest enough salicin to affect a common headache. A strong tea of the leaves might prove more effective, without the bad taste. A strip of the bark can be tied over a cut to serve as a band-aid and as an astringent-antiseptic. Members of the Willow family may also expel worms.

      Studies indicate that, when used as a long-term tonic, common aspirin can greatly reduce a person's risk of heart disease or colon cancer in later life. Willow tea may or may not have the same potential-more research needs to be done in this area. Like aspirin, large quantities of willow can irritate the stomach lining.

Key Words: Trees/bushes with alternate leaves in moist soil. Catkins form many small capsules.

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Populus tremuloides. Quaking Aspen.

Populus tremuloides. Quaking Aspen.

Populus tremuloides. Quaking Aspen.

Populus tremuloides. Quaking Aspen. Sprayed with herbicides.

Salix sp. Willow.

Salix sp. Willow. Hollowtop Lake. Tobacco Root Mountains. Pony, Montana.

Salix sp. Willow.

Salix sp. Willow.

Populus deltoides. Plains Cottonwood.

Populus deltoides. Plains Cottonwood. Jefferson River. Willow Creek, Montana.

Populus fremontii. Fremont's Cottonwood.

Populus fremontii. Fremont's Cottonwood. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Utah.

Populus acuminata. Lanceleaf Cottonwood.

Populus acuminata. Lanceleaf Cottonwood.

Foraging the Mountain West
Foraging the Mountain West

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Willow Family pictures

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Botany in a Day
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      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
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Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
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Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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