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Conservation and characterisation of Irish willows

This four-year project on conservation and characterisation of Irish willows was partly financed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the scheme Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.


Ireland has multiple species of willow, many of which were selected for specific purposes in the traditional crafts of basket and creel making. Many of these traditional varieties may be lost to cultivation. More importantly, the native sources of willow may provide useful germplasm for the development of biomass varieties.

Rust disease is a major factor limiting biomass yield in willow and the calorific value of willow wood could be improved by having a higher content of lignin. Little is known about the genetic diversity of willow in Ireland and nothing is known about gene diversity within coding regions of the genome for important characteristics such as disease resistance or wood formation.


The objectives of the project were to:

  1. Collect and characterise native willow species, hybrids and traditional craft cultivars with potential for biomass production.
  2. To vegetatively propagate the willow clones specified and establish ex- situ conservation collections at Teagasc, at national arboreta such as J.F.K., New Ross and Kilmacurragh, and make voucher specimens for the National Herbarium, Glasnevin.
  3. Screen Irish willows for genes affecting defences to diseases and those which are involved in the synthesis of lignin by using knowledge on these gene sequences in poplar.
  4. Assess overall levels of diversity using broad-scale molecular genetic techniques in Irish willow populations and also selected material from elsewhere in Europe.