Written by Samara Rosen, 2017 Monitoring Intern
Willows are an essential component of river or marsh habitats. Thriving in saturated riparian soil, willows grow extensive root systems that stabilize river banks, by holding sediment and soil in place and protecting the bank during high flow events. Willows support water quality by preventing sediment from entering the stream but also other types of runoff. Willow roots allow for polluted water to slow and sink, percolating into the soil and preventing it from ever entering the aquatic ecosystem nearby. In some ways, willows wrote the textbook on how to Slow It, Spread It, and Sink It.
The willow branch structure provides well-hidden nesting sites for a variety of wildlife. The simple leaves are a popular food and habitat for insects, which both attract hungry birds to the area and feed the fish lingering in the shady pools below. Bankside willows shade the stream and cool down the water temperature, an important component in the survival of fish and other riparian creatures. Willows are one of the few plants that flower in early spring and provide vital nutrients for pollinators that we need to pollinate our food. Finally, willows shed their leaves and branches creating a rich organic layer for decomposers, and propagating more willows in the soils around them.
River restoration projects utilize the power of willows to revitalize riverbanks, improve water quality, and provide healthy habitat for native species. On March 25, join CWC and the Watershed Stewards Program for Salix Spectacular, a willow planting along the San Lorenzo River. During the event, we will focus on reinstating the arroyo willow, common to the streams of the Central Coast. Learn more about the Salix Spectacular and sign up here.