OSIER (through Fr. from Late Lat. osaria, auxaria, a bundle of osier or willow twigs), the common term under which are included the various species, varieties and hybrids of the genus Salix, used in the manufacture of baskets. The chief species in cultivation are: Salix viminalis (the common osier) and S. triandra, S. amygdalina, S. purpurea and S. fragilis, which botanically are willows and not osiers. The first named with some forty of its varieties, formed until recent times the staple basket-making material in England. It is an abundant cropper, sometimes attaining on low-lying soils 13 ft. in height. Full-topped and smooth, it is by reason of its pithy nature mainly cultivated for coarse work and is generally used as brown stuff. Some harder varieties, known as stone osiers and raised on drier upland soils, are peeled and used for fine work. S. fragilis, with some half-score varieties, is almost exclusively used by market gardeners for bunching greens, turnips and other produce. Owing to the increased demand for finer work much attention has been given (see Basket) in recent years to the cultivation of the more ligneous and tougher species, S. triandra, S. purpurea and S. amygdalina with their many varieties and hybrids.

It is commonly supposed that osiers or willows will prove remunerative and flourish with little attention on any poor, wet, marshy soil. This is, however, not the case. No crop responds more readily to careful husbandry and skilful cultivation. For the successful raising of the finer sorts of willows good, well-drained, loamy upland soil is desirable, which before planting should be deeply trenched and cleared of weeds. J. A. Krabe of Prummern near Aachen, the most scientific and practical of German cultivators, the results of whose experiments have been published in his admirable Lehrbuch der rationellen Weidenkultur (Aix-la-Chapelle, 1886, et seq.) went so far as to assert that willows prefer a dry to a wet soil. T. Selby of Otford, Kent, in a report dated the 18th of November 1800 (see Jour. Soc. Arts, 1801, xix., 75) stated that all kinds of willows invariably throve best on the driest spots of some wet land planted by him. Krabe found that in addition to loam, willows did well on dry ferrugineous, sandy ground with a good top soil of about 6 in. in depth; on poor loamy clay, and even on peaty moors.

At any time, from late winter to early spring, the ground may be planted with “sets,” i.e. cuttings of about 9 to 16 in. in length, taken from clean, well-ripened rods. These are firmly set to within 3 to 6 in. of the top in rows, 16 to 20 in. apart and spaced at intervals of 8 to 12 in. Yearling sets are largely planted, but the experiments of Krabe tend to prove, and the practice of the best Midland and West of England growers confirms, the superior productiveness of sets cut from two yearling rods. W. P. Ellmore of Leicester, the most experienced and enterprising of Midland cultivators, preferred to plant his sets in squares, 18 to 20 in. apart, in order to admit of the use of the horse hoe in both directions and a freer play of sun and air. Great care should be exercised in planting lest the bark be fractured, loosened or removed from the wood. The ground should be kept free of weeds by frequent hoeing and, if not subject to periodical alluvial floods, manured yearly. The coarser S. viminalis may be raised on lowland soil if not water-logged or marshy, but the same attention to trenching and weeding is imperative. Approved varieties of willows cost from 5s. to 17s. 6d. per 1000 sets. The more valuable kinds are known as: New kind, Black mauls, Spaniards, Glibskins, Long-bud, Long-skin, Lancashire red-bud, French, Italians, Pomeranians and Councillors and scores of other local names. A hybrid of S. viminalis and S. triandra, known as Black-top and introduced by Ellmore has been found to produce the heaviest crops on the best Leicestershire grounds.

Cutting and binding take place in early winter after the fall of the leaf, the crop being known as green whole stuff. The coarser kinds are sorted, cured (dried in the sun and wind) and stacked ready for market. These are known as brown rods. The finer kinds, after the more shrubby or ill-grown rods, termed Ragged, have been rejected, are peeled or buffed. Two methods of stripping are chiefly practised: from the heads (sets) and from the pit. By the former method the rods are left on the ground until spring advances, when a rapid growth of the cork cambium begins. They are then cut direct from the head and the bark is easily removed by drawing the rods through a bifurcated hand-brake of smooth, well-rounded steel, framed in wood. Improved brakes worked by a treadle strip two rods at a time. For the smaller sizes, rubber brakes are sometimes used and, for the very smallest, the fingers either bare or protected by linen bands. This method ensures a clean-butted unfractured rod, but unless great judgment is exercised in selecting the proper time for cutting, the rods will remain double-skinned and the head may bleed. By the “pit” process the green rods are stood upright in shallow pits of water at a depth of about 6 to 9 in. until the sap rises and growth begins, when they are ready for the brake. The defects of this method are that the tops are liable to split in the brake and the butts to remain foul. A third, known as the “pie” system enables the grower to bridge over the interval, and to keep his hands employed, between the end of the “head” and the beginning of the “pit” strippings. The willows are cut at the first indication of the sap rising and “couched” in rotten peelings and soil at a slight angle, the butts being on the ground, which should be strewn with damp straw from a manure heap. The tops are covered lightly with rotted peelings and by periodical application of water, fermentation is induced at the bottom, heat is engendered, the leaves force their way through the covering and peeling may begin. Peeling is chiefly done by women and lasts from early May to the middle of July. After stripping, the rods are bleached in the sun and stored for sale as White. If the rods are to be buffed they are immersed in large tanks of boiling water from 4 to 6 hours. They are then allowed to cool and mellow, are stripped and carefully dried in sun and air and remain dyed a rich tawny brown or buff colour. Brown rods may also be buffed by sinking them in cold water which is heated to boiling point, and maintained at that temperature for the requisite period. Sticks (two or three yearling osiers) are also grown for whitening and buffing: the less ligneous varieties of S. viminalis are best adapted for this purpose. Osiers or willows when tied for market vary locally in girth. In the west of England, the Thames valley, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk a “bolt” of green stuff measures 42 to 45 in. in circumference at 10 in. from the butt; a bolt of white or brown, 40 in. In the northern and midland counties the stuff is invariably sold by weight. On the continent of Europe osiers or willows are bunched in sizes of one metre in girth at the butts and (except in Belgium) are also sold by weight.

The cost of planting an acre of fine willows varies greatly; it was estimated by R. L. and R. Cotterell of Ruscombe, Berks, as follows: trenching and cleaning ground, £12; sets, 20,000 at 5s. per 1000, £5; planting and levelling £1. Hoeing, first year, £2; succeeding years about £3, 15s. per annum. After 12 to 15 years the heads become “tired," and should be grubbed up. The first year's crop, known as the “maiden” crop, is of small value but should be cut and the ensuing years of maturity will yield crops of about 130 bolts, green, per acre, worth £9, 15s. If whitened, the loss in bulk and in rejection being two-thirds, this would produce about 44 bolts, which at £30 per load of 80 bolts, the appreciated market value of 1907, would be worth £16, 10s. The cost of whitening is 1s. 6d. per bolt, but against this the value of the rejected Ragged, sold as Brown, should be set off. In years of abundant crops and short demand, prices have fallen to £24 per load.

The cost of planting and the outlay for manuring and weeding during the years of maturity of the crop, are higher in the Midlands and the yield was estimated by Ellmore at 6 to 10 tons per acre, green, worth from £3, 10s. to £6, per ton. White rods, costing from £3, to £3, 7s. 6d. per ton for extra labour, will realize from £22 to £24 per ton. Buff rods costing (with coal at 10s. per ton) £5 per ton extra, will realize from £22 to £32 per ton. From 23/4 to 3 tons of green are required to produce one ton white or buff. Wm. Scaling of Notts estimated the entire cost of an osier plantation at £33, 12s. per acre for the first year and the outlay for the next two years at £7, 5s. and £6, 15s. respectively. The maiden crop he valued at £8, 12s. and the second and third years' crop at £17 and £22.

A table given by Krabe, based on results obtained for 12 plantations amounting to 20 hectares (50 English acres) during 20 years showed the value of produce per Prussian acre (.2553 of an hectare) to be in the 1st year, £3, 6s. In the 2nd year the value of the produce was £8, 19s; in the 3rd year, £9, 15s.; in the 4th year, £8, 10s.; in the 5th year, £8, 1s.; in the 6th year, £7, 6s.; in the 7th year, £5, 19s.; in the 8th year, £8, 9s.; in the 9th year, £5, 5s.; in the 10th year, £6, 10s.; in the 11th year, £5, 11s.; in the 12th year, £4; in the 13th year, £6, 1s.; in the 14th year, £2, 9s.; in the 15th year, £2, 8s.; in the 16th year, £1, 18s.; in the 17th year, £2, 7s.; in the 18th year, £2, 2s.; in the 19th year, £3. 13s.; and in the 20th year, £1, 11s.

The cultivation of osiers is attended with many disturbing causes—winter floods, spring frosts, ground vermin and insect pests of various kinds, sometimes working great havoc to the crop.

The best comprehensive work on the subject is that by Krabe, which has passed through several editions. A pamphlet on the cultivation of osiers in the Fen districts is issued in England by the Board of Agriculture.  (T. O.)