Sunday, July 11, 2010

The willows - restricted to a few localities

Mediterranean Willow (Salix pedicellata

Willows prefer moist habitats in cold or temperate climates. Of about 400 species of in the world two the Mediterranean willow (safsafa żgħira) and the while willow (safsafa kbira) can be found in Malta. 

With few aquatic habitats, the two willows are understandably restricted to a few localities such as Fiddien in the limits of Rabat. The willows are not popular with farmers who see them as competitors for water. 

A single white willow, which was planted thirty years ago at Baħrija Vallery was chopped and burnt several times and although it kept grew out of its ashes several times it finally died.

The flowers, known as catkins. can be either male or female. A tree can be either male or female. The Mediterranean willow flowers in January and February while the white willow is in flower in March and April.

The leaves and bark of willow trees contain salicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin. Salicylic acid is known for its ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers. These medicinal properties, particularly fever relief, have been known since ancient times, and it was used as an anti-inflammatory drug. 

The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever and the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties in the 5th Century BC.

In 1763 Reverend Edward Stone notified the Royal Society about the medicinal properties of the willow tree and published his findings in the Society’s journal. The active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist, and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist, who then succeeded in separating out the acid in its pure state.

Nowadays willow is being grown for biomass or biofuel in energy forest systems. In Sweden large scale project are already being developed to grow willows on a commercial scale. 

This article was published in The Times on 21.04.10

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