Salix acmophylla

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Hebrew name   ערבה מחודדת
Family Salicaceae
Petals No petals
Leaf form Simple
Leaf margin Entire
Habitat Riparian
צורת הגבעול Round
Life form Tree
Distribution in Israel Golan, Hermon, Gallilee, Mediterranean coast, Upper Jordan valley, Northern valleys, Gilboa, Carmel, Samarian mountains, Judean mountains, Judean desert and Dead Sea valley, Ein Gedi, Sharon, Shefela,
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Flowering months
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Medicinal allergenic

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© Photo: Amikam Shoob  
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Additional information

Salix acmophylla (willow of the brook) is a common winter-deciduous tree that grows wild in Israel on river banks and other humid habitats. It has a wide crown, grows rapidly (“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water”). It reproduces readily by vegetative reproduction from broken branches that were swept by the current and became stuck in mud. It can reach a height of 8 meters, but usually not more than 5 meters.
The branches are pliant, reddish, the external ones hang down to the ground. The leaves are alternate, simple, dentate, pointed at the tip, accompanied by deciduous stipules. The following characteristics differentiate it from a similar species, Salix alba: The leaves of Salix alba are glabrous, lanceolate, narrow (they are less than 2 cm wide), the dentation of their margin is delicate and cannot be observed at all without a magnifying glass. The petiole is short, the upper side of the leaf is somewhat shiny, the lower side is bluish.
Salix acmophylla blooms in the spring, from March to May, concomitantly with the sprouting of the leaves. The inflorescence is made of a limp spike of tiny unisexual flowers (catkin). It is erect and short (2-3 cm), falls as a single unit. The flower lacks petals and sepals. Each flower is accompanied by a pilose or pappose bract. Willows are dioecous; each individual have either male flowers, which contain 4 or 5 stamens, or female flowers. The flowers secrete nectar, and are pollinated by insects, as well as by wind. The fruit is dry, opens in valves, multi-seed. It is carried on a petiole of 1-5 mm. Each seed is equipped with a tuft of hairs that helps its dispersal in the wind. The entire ground is often covered with threads of Salix seeds, and the air is also filled with them.
Salix acmophylla is common in all parts of Israel, except for the Negev.
Its uses include: light and soft wood, which is good for light furniture and for building boats, as well as for producing wood coal. The pliant branches are beautiful for weaving baskets. The bark is used for extraction of tannin. The willow is considered a good source of bee food. The bark and the leaves are used in folk medicine for pain relief, for lowering fever and for healing infections. Salicyl, the active compond in aspirin, was first isolated from the bark of Salix trees and is named after the tree’s scientific name.
Archeological remains dated to 12,000 years ago of Salix wood that was used by man were discovered in the Nahal Cave on Mount Carmel, and from 5,000-7,000 years ago at Jericho.
Its global distribution spreads over the Eastern Mediterranean countries and the Middle East.
The genus contains 500 species, and they are common mainly in temperate and cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere both in the Old World and in the New World. It is difficult to differentiate between the species, especially in light of the fact that hybrids between species are common. One other species grows in Israel, and perhaps 3 more very rare species, as well as one domesticated species – Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow), whose branches hang down as if weeping, reminiscent of “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Psalms 137: 1-2). It originates from China.
The Salicaceae family is considered a primitive family among the dicotyledonous plants and among the angiosperms. It is the only family in its order. The family contains only two genera: Salix and Populus.
It is claimed by some that the willow mentioned in the scriptures is what we today call poplar, and that the poplar in the scriptures is a willow, as mentioned by Rav Hisda in Tractate Sabbath (36: 71): “Since the destruction of the Temple the name willow was exchanged for poplar and the name poplar for willow”.

Written by Mike Livne


Heritage

“And you shall take for yourselves … the fruit of beautiful trees [citron], branches of palm trees [lulav], the boughs of leafy trees [myrtle[, and willows of the brook [willow]; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23: 40).
The willow is one of the four kinds that are blessed on Sukkoth, and is mentioned in the Bible as “willow of the brook”. When taking and holding the four kinds together, our Sages emphasized the value of making friends and the unity of Israel. The Midrash finds symbolism in each of the four agricultural kinds on Sukkoth: The willow, that has no taste and no smell, resembles those in Israel who do not perform good deeds, and are not religious (and should therefore be drawn towards the religion).
Two branches of the willow are necessary for fulfilling the commandment of the four kinds. The stem must be at least 29 cm long, and preferably red in color. The leaves must be elongated, with a smooth and not dentate margin and a pointed tip.
In Tractate Sukkah we are told that the priests during the period of the Second Temple would go to Motza to bring willows for decorating the alter: “Mishna: The commandment of willow, how? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motza, they went down there and collected bundles of willow branches and then they came and placed them erect on the sides of the alter with their heads bent over the alter”.

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