Ecological hiking trail – Stop 14:
|Cities without trees are cities without seasons.
Willows prosper best close to nutrient-rich ground water. They are often planted on the border of streams, rivers, or lakes. Willows have been part of Central Europe’s floodplains for many centuries and thus are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world.Coppicing the willow not only yielded fibers used for basket weaving but also kept the treetop from giving too much shade, which was an advantage to agricultural. Hence, the willow opened myriads of ways in which it was able to be used.
Ecological significance of willows
Willows serve as a natural habitat for many animals. They rank among the trees with the highest density of different species of insects in Central Europe: ca. 183 species per tree section which includes the bark, twigs, buds, and leaves. If the tree is not close to streets and crowded paths and is able to flourish freely on the wetland, then it is regularly visited by birds such as willow tits, common redstarts, and spotted flycatchers. Hollow parts of rotten trees are home to bats, which use these ‘caves’ as shelter and for reproduction purposes. They often share their habitat with mice, fat dormice, martens, and polecats.
Who endangers the pollarded willow?
|Since they were of no more use from an economic point of view, many willows were cut down in the last few decades. Furthermore, the remaining trees were abandoned and were not taken care of properly. In consequence, the treetop was becoming heavier until the willow itself cracked under the weight. The sprawling infrastructure with more and more streets or pipes being built constitutes a problem as well. The practice of drainage turns many wetland meadows into arable land. Additionally, farmers’ plowing up the roots of the tree and the one-sided mutilation of the dense foliage due to the trees’ blocking out the sun are major issues as well. Unfortunately, growing rates of acts of vandalism at Kirchsteig add to the list of problems today.|
|-||Animals and fungi:|
|Horses occupying the neighboring meadows can damage the bark of the willow. Moreover, enterobacteriaceae, which act as plant pathogens with a wide host range, often cause disease in trees such as the White Willow.|
Cultural-historical significance of the willows for Weiden
Since the pollarded willow is the symbol of both Weiden and the town’ coat-of-arms, it is of crucial importance to the town. That is why Weiden’s municipal authorities and the Maintenance Services Department have taken due care of willows. New plantings of ‘willow avenues’ prove that this tree will remain a distinctive feature of Weiden for years to come.
Why did the people actually cultivate the willow?
|-||Uses as a plant:|
|Protection against the sun, wind, and rain|
|Streambank stabilisation through strongly intertwined roots|
|Roots are resistant to periodic flooding and thus enabled the cultivation of plants on floodplains|
|-||Uses as wood-derived products|
|In construction of half-timbered houses, people usually made use of rods to brace the walls. Clay and wood chaff was applied to the twigs of the willows.|
|As wattle fences as means for enclosure of preserves and gardens|
|Basket weaving; the White Willow was used for wickerwork (e.g. potato sacks); because of their high elasticity, the rods of the Crack Willow were made into items of practical use (e.g. baskets, cribs, trolleys, chairs, armchairs, baskets for holding bullets used by the military)|
To produce finer wickerwork, the 1-2 year-old shoots were shelled before the weaving process. Sticks for shovels, rakes, pitchforks, etc. were made of willow as well since this wood is light, adaptable, tough, and is able to easily absorb sweat.
Even agriculture and the military processed the soft-wood into material used in cart construction. Additionally, it was made into drying racks for hey and into beanpoles. Since the Middle Ages, it was especially the Dutch who used this material to build mats for levees. These humongous mats were weighed down with stones so that they were heavy enough to sink to the ground and thus act as foundations of the levee. Willow wood continues to be used for the protection of the coastline.
Furthermore, the foliage of willows is used as green fodder for cattle, hares, and rabbits.
Renate Löw, Simone Schaller
The pollarded willow, which is the symbol of Weiden, was first planted at Kirchsteig at the turn of the 19th century to provide people on their way to church with a source of shade. That is also the origin of the name “Kirchsteig” (literally: church path).
Pollarded willows were cultivated chiefly for economic reasons. The trees were frequently coppiced due to the readily thriving buds. The fibers of the willow were used for basket weaving.
Old willows serve as a natural habitat for many animals such as numerous birds and bats, which are very close to extinction particularly in Central Europe. Willows are home to more 100 different species of animals, fungi, and mosses.