There are several varieties of willow native to Ireland. All grow in damp soil, have catkins or ‘pussy willows’ that produce seeds, but are most easily grown from cuttings, which root very readily.
The most widespread willow species are the goat willow, the rusty or grey willow (both known as ‘sallies’), and the eared willow. While these generally grow on damp ground, the goat willow will also colonise rough and disturbed ground in drier areas. The bay leaved willow, with glossy green leaves, is found beside small rivers and ditches.
Osiers, with long fine leaves, do not develop into large trees. They were often grown and managed by cutting right back to the base to encourage long flexible shoots used for baskets. Now this species may be grown for biomass and provide a renewable energy source.
All willows are rich in insects and so provide a good food source for insect eating birds in summer, notably for the willow warbler.