Willows : Weeping and Corkscrew

Discussion in 'Plants: Nomenclature and Taxonomy' started by lettuce, May 2, 2008.

  1. lettuce

    lettuce Active Member

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    According to Tree Guide by Johnson & More (HarperCollins Publisher):
    Salix babylonica is Corkscrew willow (also as Salix matsudana), and
    Salix x sepulcralis is Weeping willow.

    When googled for Salix babylonica, almost all results returned as Weeping willow!???
    If googled for Salix matsudana, results are Corkscrew willow - ok!
    Googling for Salix x sepulcralis returned Weeping willow - ok!

    So, what's with Salix babylonica? Which one is it already - weeping or corkscrew?

    Hope you can clear this up for me! Thanx!
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    There are multiple kinds of weeping willows including Babylon weeping willow and its hybrids Salix x pendulina and S. x sepulcralis. A synonym of S. matsudana 'Tortuosa' is S. babylonica 'Tortuosa'. Whichever species name is given preference for one to be talking about a corkscrew willow the 'Tortuosa' (or other cultivar name for a contorted form, there is more than one of these also) needs to be included.

    Aside from its non-weeping branching, S. Matsudana is so similar to S. babylonica (BABYLON WEEPING WILLOW) that it can scarcely be regarded as a distinct species. S. Matsudana and its three cultivars might most properly be referred to as S. babylonica var. pekinensis, but since "S. babylonica" is already the most loosely applied name in the world of WILLOWS, more often than not used for hybrids, any additional tinkering would be like throwing oil on a bonfire

    --Jacobson, North American Landscape Trees (1996, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley)
     
  3. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    I certainly don't want to throw oil on any bonfire, but my understanding of the weeping/corkscrew willow issue is this: Salix babylonica is a variable, widespread species with green stems and blue-green leaves adapted to the dry, continental climate of central Asia. In the western part of its range (eastern Europe) the species overlaps with S. alba (white willow). When the pendulous form of S. babylonica crosses with white willow, the resultant hybrids are known as S. x sepulcralis. The epithet sepulcralis (a sepulcre) commemorates the fact that this plant was grown near Napoleon's (Napoleon I of France) tomb on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic (but perhaps this is an apocryphal story).

    In nature, some of the hybrid offspring display pendulous stems that are bright, golden yellow. This variant is known as golden weeping willow, S. x sepulcralis var. chrysocoma. And this is by far, the most commonly cultivated form of weeping willow in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. It is usually known commercially and incorrectly under either S. alba 'Tristis' or S. babylonica.

    As Ron B. points out, Salix matsudana may or may not be the same species as S. babylonica. The argument turns on whether one or two nectaries in the female flower is 1) definitive (i.e., distinguishes the two species) or 2) an inconstant feature (and thus, unites the species). Further complicating matters: a number of botanical (i.e., naturally occurring) varieties and forms are recognized by some, but not by others. For example, corkscrew willow is known either as S. matsudana f. tortuosa or S. matsudana 'Tortuosa'. In other words, the corkscrewiness is either a one-off mutation (cultivar 'Tortuosa') or a naturally-occurring entity (forma tortuosa). Whatever it might be, crossing it with S. x sepulcralis var. chrysocoma has yielded two very interesting upright, curly willows, S. 'Golden Curls' and S. 'Scarlet Curls'.
     
  4. lettuce

    lettuce Active Member

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    wonderful description, thank you!
     
  5. bjo

    bjo Active Member 10 Years

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    Hi,

    there is an interesting article throwing a little light into a very confusing story available on the web:

    http://joa.isa-arbor.com/request.asp?JournalID=1&ArticleID=2230&Type=2

    Douglas wrote:
    This is another confusing story, which needs authorative detective work!

    Salix babylonica was widely grown in Europe in the 17th century (named by Linnaeus in 1753) and could have been introduced by Europeans to St Helena by the time Napoleon died there in 1821. However, S x sepulcralis hybrids seem to have arisen in Europe from the mid 19th century- ie after Napolelon had died. There is a well documented story that cuttings were taken from the willow at the tomb site by Napoleon's doctor on St Helena, Dr O'Meara. He sent them on to his nephew in Shimla (Simla) in India. Weeping willows (in theory derived from this introduction) are now a common feature of the landscape around Shimla - and are all thought to be S. babylonica.

    Weeping willows appear in paintings of graveyards from the 18th and early 19th century. These must almost certainly represent S. babylonica.

    So, perhaps, Simonkai named S. x sepulcralis for the general association of weeping willows with graveyards or for the more specific association with Napoleon's tomb, but not specifically for material derived from this actual tree or its descendants?

    It would help to have access to his original paper !

    I think the story of weeping willow taxonomy will run and run.....

    Ciao
    BrianO
     
  6. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    The plot thickens. Flora of China lists Europe in the distribution of S. babylonica, but most other authorities (e.g., Flora Europaea, USDA Germplasm Resorces Information Network (GRIN)) list the species as introduced in Europe. It appears then, that these are not naturally occurring hybrids, unless the hybridization occurred in Asia. I note that Salix alba is native to China...

    And just so that we keep the nomenclature correct:

    A number of authorities including the International Plant Name Organization (IOPI) and GRIN list the golden weeping willow as a "nothovariety" (an intervarietal hybrid). Both sources list the parents of Salix x sepulcralis nothovar. sepulcralis as Salix alba var. alba x S. babylonica and the parents of Salix x sepulcralis nothovar. chrysocoma as Salix alba var. vitellina x S. babylonica.

    Index Kewensis lists Simonkai's publication of the name as "ex Oest. Bot. Zeitschr. xl. (1890) 424," and the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) lists it as "Természetrajzi Füz. 12: 157 (-158). 1890 [25 Mar 1890]; superceded By: Annales historico-naturales Musei Nationalis Hungarici." I need a better library.
     

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