Friday, August 1, 2008

It’s All in the Sauce

One of the trees that you can see growing all up and down the Willowbrook Reach is black willow (Salix nigra). It droops over the trails, swaying gracefully in the warm summer breezes moving up from the Gulf of Mexico.

Bees drop in on the trees when flowering in spring and use the nectar to make honey. Viceroy caterpillars munch on the leaves before transforming into beautiful orange and black butterflies that mimic the famous migrating monarchs. (You can tell the difference between the two butterflies by size—the viceroy is slightly smaller—and by wing pattern—the viceroy has a black line crossing it’s hind wing).

Willowbrook Drive and the Reach are, in fact, namesakes of this great native tree that grows along streams throughout much of eastern North America.

Willows are fast growers, and you can find many young trees sprouting along our creek bed and banks. Bendable and posable, willows are often used to make fences and arbors, and they stabilize the creek banks and slow the flow of water. When big flows come racing through the Reach, watch for the tops of the willows dipping in and out of the churning surface.

Mature willows can get pretty tall, and the big, multi-trunked trees often fall over. But if any portions of the stem or roots are hanging on in the soil, new willow shoots will sprout and quickly grow into branches and new trunks, completing the natural cycle of birth, death and renewal.

The Spanish word for the willow tree is sauce—the word we use in English for condiments dribbled over food. Of course, the Spanish word for the same sweet, spicy or savory relish is salsa.

And that’s how I like to think of the Willowbrook Reach itself, a crazy mix of ingredients, from native and introduced plants to people, birds, bacteria, frogs and fish. The willows anchor that sauce and are but one ingredient in the bigger pot of salsa that makes our Cherrywood neighborhood worth living in, all the while supporting our urban ecosystem and ultimately, planet Earth.