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Rothamsted Research is the home of the National Willow Collection. The National Willow Collection moved to Rothamsted Research in 2002. Today the National Willow Collection contains 1,500 accessions and over 100 pure species of Salix are represented. This unique germplasm resource has been used to underpin a bioenergy breeding programme and a number of other research programmes.

The collection was created in 1923 following the impact of the First World War on basket willow production. Basket willow was identified as a strategic resource in the First World War by a War Office committee which was set up after the armistice to review the war effort. The committee recommended appointing a National Willows Officer to provide scientific support to the basket willow industry. J.P. Hutchinson was appointed to this role at Long Ashton Research Station. He realised the value of securing basket willow varieties in a living collection and the National Willow Collection was initiated in spring 1923.


Short rotation coppice (SRC) willows are of interest as a perennial bioenergy crop. SRC willows are grown as a source of renewable biomass fuel for heat and power. We are also exploring its utility as a source of high value compounds for various chemical and pharmaceutical industries. A SRC willow breeding programme based at Rothamsted uses the collection to breed elite varieties of SRC willow. When grown in SRC plantations, willows are particularly suited to meeting the challenge of providing low-carbon alternatives because they:

  • can be grown on land less suited to food production
  • produce high yields with low inputs (e.g. rain fed, low nitrogen fertilisers and agrochemicals)
  • use more of the growing season and produce less waste (all the above ground crop is used)
  • result in high energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions
  • don’t require annual cultivation and planting each year
  • sequester carbon in soils
  • support more biodiversity than annual crops.

At Rothamsted Research, we are using genetics, DNA markers and advanced DNA sequencing technologies to identify genes influencing growth and resistance to pests, diseases and drought, and that regulate biochemical pathways, to accelerate breeding of willows for bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products for the bioeconomy.


To view our list of basket making varieties please see here. Cuttings are available annually if enquires are received by 20 December each year. This allows woody cuttings to be prepared for shipping in the late winter/spring. Cutting allocation will be on a first come first served basis with use for research taking priority. For more information contact:

A comprehensive and practical guide for the small or large scale basket willow grower, produced jointly by the Basketmakers’ Association and Rothamstead Research is available here.


Dr Ian Shield

Dr Ian Shield


William Macalpine

William Macalpine

Plant Breeder


The National Willow Collection
Rothamsted Research