Ethnobotany and the Epitaph

Epitaph (/ˈepəˌtaf/); noun: a phrase or statement written in memory of a person who has died, especially as an inscription on a tombstone.
— Oxford English Dictionary
Weeping Willow ( Salix babylonica, L. )

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica, L.)

The epitaph is a highly personal thing, especially in the modern period.  For centuries, plants have made an appearance on burial markers and urns.  This occurred mainly during the Classical and neo-Classical periods, though does appear at other times as well.  The weeping willow has often been shown on funerary memorabilia, from lapel pins and cameos to the physical depictions on grave markers.  Other frequent appearances from roses are notable, as are the presence of other botanical elements.

At it's most basic, the weeping willow (Salix Babylonca), is associated with death, largely due to its drooping appearance and subsequent name.  This naming is further supported as when rain drips from the willow's spearhead-shaped leaves, it strongly resembles tears (4).  S. babylonica has also been associated with healing, rebirth, and immortality. With this range of associations linked strongly with many world spiritual and end of life practices, it is entirely logical that the willow has been associated with the epitaph and general memorial for centuries. Other willow species have different associations, the bark of the white willow, for example, being the origins of today’s Aspirin. However, we will save that discussion for another day.

The weeping willow grows well in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. It grows well near water but has some drought tolerance.
— Arbor Day Foundation

This tree is a native of non-tropical regions of Asia, like China, extending as far as Turkey.  It is part of the family of Crack Willows  tends to grow best in well lit environments and can absorb large amounts of water.  Consequently, they're often planted in flooded and eroding areas (4), the roots wide, strong roots growing deep into the soil and stabilizing it. The S. babylonica is a quickly-growing diecious tree that grows at a rate of about 24in (60.06cm) per year. This means that male and female flowers exist on separate trees and thus unlike some plants, the S. babylonica has male and female trees. Between April and May yellow flowers grow in a catkin formation. Its ideal habitat is full sun and partial shade with loamy, moist clay soils (5). In many habitats, the S. babylonica is an integral part of the landscape, adding beauty, nesting spots for birds and other wildlife, and food for avian and land-bound creatures.

Till next time, be well.

Kate


Sources:

1. https://www.bellarmine.edu/faculty/drobinson/WeepingWillow.asp

2. http://callmetaphy.blogspot.com/2011/07/symbol-of-weeping-willow-in-gravestone.html?m=1

3. https://www.hunker.com/12320564/legend-of-the-weeping-willow

4.  http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/willow_tree_facts/555/

5. https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=938