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A shrub or a small tree of bushy habit; young shoots at first grey with down, becoming smoother. Leaves varying in shape from roundish oval or oval lance-shaped to obovate, tapered, rounded, or heart-shaped at the base; pointed, sometimes blunt at the apex, toothed or entire, 21⁄2 to 4 in. long, 1 to 21⁄4 in. wide, grey-green, wrinkled and slightly downy above, covered with a soft grey wool and prominently veined beneath; stalk 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, woolly. Catkins produced on the naked shoots in March and April, stalkless; the males very silky, a little over 1 in. long, half as thick; anthers yellow. Female catkins ultimately 2 in. or more long; the seed-vessels white with down, and stalked; style very short.
Native of Europe and N.W. Asia, and common in Britain. Flowering branches of the male are often known in country places as ‘palm’, and are gathered by children the Sunday before Easter, when that day coincides with the opening of the flowers. This willow is one of those which bear seeds fairly freely in this country. It is often seen in hedgerows, where its yellow catkins make a cheerful display in early spring.
So far as can be ascertained, the origin of the name ‘goat willow’ is to be found in the illustrated edition of the herbal of Jerome Bock (Hieronymus Tragus), first published in 1546 (Vol. III, p. 1078). The artist, David Kandel, enlivened his woodcuts of trees and shrubs with animal or human figures, some alluding to a property or association of the plant, others perhaps intended purely as decoration. In which category comes the hegoat that browses the catkins of the sallow it is impossible to say; there is no clue in the text, nor is there in the herbal of Tabernimontanus, published later in the century, where two sallows are figured, as S. caprea, rotundifolia and S. caprea, latifolia. Although Linnaeus did not cite these names when describing S. caprea he was certainly aware of them. The foliage of the sallows was at one time used as fodder for sheep and goats and much liked by them; this may be the explanation. Or the goat may have been a jocular allusion to the author, whose name means goat in German (a goat’s head appears above his portrait in the frontispiece).
[var. coaetanea] – The correct name for this variety is var. sphacelata (Sm.) Wahlenb. Another of its characteristics is that the leaves are entire or almost so (Meikle, op. cit., p. 97).
Branches stiffly pendulous. The Kilmarnock weeping willow was put into commerce by the nurseryman Thomas Lang of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, and was first advertised in 1853, by which time he had propagated about 1,000 plants, most of them layers. The original plant came from James Smith of Monkwood Grove near Ayr, ‘an old and enthusiastic botanist’, who, according to an account published some fifty years after his death, found it on the banks of the Ayr. It is puzzling that there are two clones under the name S. caprea ‘Pendula’, one male and the other female. According to the advertisements in the Gardeners’ Chronicle for 1853, the Kilmarnock willow bore ‘gold-coloured catkins’ and must therefore have been male. The history of the female is unknown, but it was in cultivation at Kew by 1880. It is recorded that Lang went back to Smith for more plants and it is possible that among these later acquisitions there was a pendulous female, also collected by Smith, or even that he had discovered a whole colony of pendulous plants. Or the female may have arisen later as a bud-mutation from the original Kilmarnock clone. The female clone has recently been named ‘Weeping Sally’ by Roy Lancaster in The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 101 (1976), p. 75.S. × reichardtii A. Kern. – A natural hybrid between S. caprea and S. cinerea, widespread in the British Isles, where the second parent is usually the common sallow (S. cinerea subsp. oleifolia, syn. S. atrocinerea). Being fertile, and back-crossing in both directions, the hybrid is very variable and sometimes difficult to distinguish from the parents. Intermediate forms have relatively narrower leaves than in S. caprea and more sparsely indumented beneath, but with the characteristic prominent venation of that species. The wood under the bark may be smooth as in S. caprea or show the influence of S. cinerea in being slightly striated. The hybrid is uncommon in closed communities and mostly found in disturbed habitats, e.g., waste ground in semi-urban areas.
S. coaetanea (Hartm.) Floderus: S. caprea var. sericea Anderss.
S. caprea var. á Wahlenb.
?S. sphacelata Sm., not Schleich
Leaves smaller, obovate to elliptic, cuneate at the base, rather shortly stalked, sparsely silky-hairy above even when mature, densely white tomentose beneath. Native of Scandinavia and Finland. Plants found in the Highlands of Scotland are perhaps referable to this variety; they are usually of dwarf habit.