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A shrub or a small tree of bushy habit; young shoots at first grey with down, becoming smoother. Leaves varying in shape from roundish oval or oval lance-shaped to obovate, tapered, rounded, or heart-shaped at the base; pointed, sometimes blunt at the apex, toothed or entire, 21⁄2 to 4 in. long, 1 to 21⁄4 in. wide, grey-green, wrinkled and slightly downy above, covered with a soft grey wool and prominently veined beneath; stalk 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, woolly. Catkins produced on the naked shoots in March and April, stalkless; the males very silky, a little over 1 in. long, half as thick; anthers yellow. Female catkins ultimately 2 in. or more long; the seed-vessels white with down, and stalked; style very short.
Native of Europe and N.W. Asia, and common in Britain. Flowering branches of the male are often known in country places as ‘palm’, and are gathered by children the Sunday before Easter, when that day coincides with the opening of the flowers. This willow is one of those which bear seeds fairly freely in this country. It is often seen in hedgerows, where its yellow catkins make a cheerful display in early spring.
So far as can be ascertained, the origin of the name ‘goat willow’ is to be found in the illustrated edition of the herbal of Jerome Bock (Hieronymus Tragus), first published in 1546 (Vol. III, p. 1078). The artist, David Kandel, enlivened his woodcuts of trees and shrubs with animal or human figures, some alluding to a property or association of the plant, others perhaps intended purely as decoration. In which category comes the hegoat that browses the catkins of the sallow it is impossible to say; there is no clue in the text, nor is there in the herbal of Tabernimontanus, published later in the century, where two sallows are figured, as S. caprea, rotundifolia and S. caprea, latifolia. Although Linnaeus did not cite these names when describing S. caprea he was certainly aware of them. The foliage of the sallows was at one time used as fodder for sheep and goats and much liked by them; this may be the explanation. Or the goat may have been a jocular allusion to the author, whose name means goat in German (a goat’s head appears above his portrait in the frontispiece).
[var. coaetanea] – The correct name for this variety is var. sphacelata (Sm.) Wahlenb. Another of its characteristics is that the leaves are entire or almost so (Meikle, op. cit., p. 97).
S. coaetanea (Hartm.) Floderus: S. caprea var. sericea Anderss.
S. caprea var. á Wahlenb.
?S. sphacelata Sm., not Schleich