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A tree of the genus Salix, including many species, most of which are characterized by slender, pliant branches. The willow, especially the weeping-willow, is often used as an emblem of sorrow, desolation, or desertion. The weeping-willow is a species of willow whose branches grow very long and slender; and hang down nearly in a perpendicular direction; Salix Babylonica. — Webster, 1882

Henry Bolte has some willow rocking chairs which were manufactured in this state, at Kinsley, Pawnee county, which are a curiosity as well as very comfortable chairs to sit in. – Wichita Eagle, August 24, 1874.

The willow family (Salicaceae) comprises about 435 species of willows and poplars, including aspens and cottonwoods. The willow genus is Salix; the familiar weeping willow tree is Salix babylonica. The majority of species of willows are shrubs, although some can grow into large trees. Members of the family usually live in moist habitats and in the floodplains. Willow trees are distinctive, with their slender olive-green to pale yellowish-brown branches hanging or drooping. The crown is usually round, reaching a height of 40 to 50 feet. Leaves are 3-6 inches long and narrow, finely serrated, yellow-green above and milky-green below.

Most willows grow rapidly, reaching flowering age within a few years, but they are short-lived, some lasting only 20 years. Willows are either male or female and will not spread without trees of both sexes present. While willows once grew abundantly along the banks of Plum Creek, there are few large willow trees along Plum Creek on the former Ingalls land today, although there is at least one large grove of willows north of the preemption claim. On July 3, 1936, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote daughter Rose: “Willows and plum trees grew thick on the western side making a little grove… The first tree was a big willow. One end of the footbridge was fastened to it.” The picture at right is of a willow along Plum Creek near the dugout site.

Ma finds a willow-twig broom in the corner of the dugout, and she uses it to brush the walls, probably to clear away any cobwebs. Time to get out the willow twigs and make a broom Christmas ornament (that’s mine, above); on a full-size broom, the twigs wouldn’t be so ridiculously out of proportion in a full-size broom, of course. The Ingallses use both willow twig and willow bough brooms, according to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Straw used in the manufacture of brooms is actually a variety of corn of genus Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare or S. bicolor variety technicum), an annual plant that grows a much longer tassel than other varieties of corn. Almost every pioneer town had a broom-maker, usually a man, who would both grow the broom corn and attach it to wooden handles. While you can still find beautiful twig and straw brooms made by hand in the United States, the majority of brooms sold are imported from Mexico or China.

In her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that a man in Walnut Grove, John Hurley, grew crops of broom straw and made brooms which he sold in town. At one point, Laura spent two weeks in the country with the family helping out Mr. Hurley’s wife, Sadie (a cousin of the Masters family), and one day she was surprised to find Pa there helping Mr. Hurley make brooms. Laura realized that her family must need money if the only work Pa could find was as the broom-maker’s helper.

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa makes Ma a rocking chair using slender willows from the creek bottoms (see Chapter 15, “Fever ‘n’ Ague”). The same chair shows up in By the Shores of Silver Lake (see Chapter 1, “Unexpected Visitor), but it’s described as being made of hickory. Perhaps the chair contained both kinds of wood.


willow (LHP 15; BPC 1-5, 8, 11-16, 18, 23-29, 32-33, 35, 38; SSL 29; THGY 30, 33; PG)
     willow-bough / willow-twig broom (LHP 6, 9; BPC 2, 7, 16, 18)
     willow chair / rocking-chair (BPC 38; THGY 4)
     willow creek (BPC 18)
     willow valley (BPC 3-5)
willowy (LTP 11, 20) – Resembling a willow; pliant; flexible; pendent; drooping; graceful.