NLI’s Legacy Tree Program announces the April Tree of the Month is the Bebb Willow (Salix bebbiana), Height: 27 feet 3-inches, Crown Spread: 20 feet 9.5 inches, Circumference: 32-inches.

This legacy tree may not be large, but it sure is for its kind! Bebb Willow is a small tree that is found across northern North America as far south as northern Illinois. It is named after this region’s premier botanist: Michael Schuck Bebb who lived in Seward Township in southwestern Winnebago County in the 1800’s. You can read about the significance of Mr. Bebb in the Introduction to the Flora of Winnebago County, Illinois by Egbert W. Fell.  Bebb was a world authority on willows and a premier botanist of his day with specimens of the plants he collected located at the Chicago Natural History Museum and the University of Illinois. Bebb is laid to rest in historic Greenwood Cemetery in Rockford.

“Our legacy tree was discovered when preparing for restoration work removing invasive shrubs at Lost Flora Fen on Raccoon Creek” said Alan Branhagen, Executive Director, Natural Land Institute. Bebb Willow is an indicator of cool, moist to wet organic soils “not uncommon in the Sugar River area and is found occasionally in Kent Creek bottom and in northern Boone County” according to Egbert Fell. Branhagen said, “I’m not sure why Raccoon Creek was never mentioned because it is relic in the brushy wetlands along the creek and currently one of the easiest places to find this tree. We are thankful for funding from the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation to accomplish this work, restoring this unique wetland from an invasion of buckthorn and amur maple. Many very large Bebb and Pussy Willows, several Quaking Aspen groves, American Plum and Nannyberry thickets were rescued in the project.”

Bebb Willow is similar to the well-known Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) but its cute catkins are a bit smaller and emerge a little later. It is just as important for early spring pollinators as pussy willow. Trees are either male or female, the male flowers studded with yellow, pollen-rich stamens when in full bloom. Female flowers are more greenish, maturing to capsules that burst in late spring with cottony seed – often gathered by songbirds to line their nests. The cottony fluff disperses the tiny seeds which must land on wet, bare soil where they germinate immediately.  The small leaves are also quite beautiful with a leather texture on top and a bluish white underside that makes the tree such a lovely ornamental through the growing season.

Bebb Willow can be a shrub, but usually does have a main stem that can develop into a trunk. It grows 15 to 30-feet tall. “The trees at Lost Flora Fen were flagged and spared as we prepared for the aforementioned management of this area to remove invasive brush. They are some of the largest Bebb Willows I have ever seen and as no state champion is listed, the featured Bebb Willow for April will be the state champion once submitted,” said Branhagen.

Lost Flora Fen on Raccoon Creek, owned by Natural Land Institute, is open to the public daily for hiking, birding, and nature photography, at 5565 Yale Bridge Rd., Rockton, IL 61072. More information about this preserve is available at https://www.naturalland.org/preserve-lost-flora-fen/.

For more information about NLI’s Legacy Tree Program and to find the nomination form visit: https://www.naturalland.org/nlis-legacy-tree-program-january/, call 815/964-6666 or email info@naturalland.org.

 

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