Species of the Month - April 2018

Each month we feature a picture of a species to be found on The Commons. Wherever possible, all species featured have been photographed here. This month we are featuring the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) also known more affectionately as “pussy willow”.

It is easily overlooked for most of the year, tucked away unobtrusively alongside Fox’s Beck or amongst the oaks on School Common. It is a tree that can tolerate its feet being wet or dry. But after a long, seemingly endless Winter,  it is one of those emblematic plants that announce the arrival of Spring. As the first primrose flowers emerge star like on the woodland floor so the white and yellow pussy willow catkins are etched against the brilliant blue of the sky. They are often brought into churches at Easter for their colourful display. The male catkins are like cats’ feet and were once also known as goslings because of their resemblance to newly hatched geese.

Goat Willow is important as an early nectar source for bees and the small tortoiseshell butterfly and yes, no kidding, to the goat moth caterpillar, which eats its wood.

Two further facts about Goat Willow, one useful the other less so.

The name is thought to derive from its foliage providing fodder for goats. But as goats will eat almost anything we have to ask why the willow?

An infusion of Willow bark was for long known as a remedy for minor ailments such as headache. An acid which was subsequently extracted from it became the basis for Aspirin, the most widely used synthetic drug today.

More pictures and information can be found on the Woodland Trust website.

Click here to see the other Species of the month in 2018.

Click here to see the Species of the Month for last year, or here for 2016's Plants of the Month.