"In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers."

On the Wikipedia page for willow it has this single sentence under the culture tab about English beliefs, with no reference. I was wondering if there is actually any backing to this, as anything I've tried googling has just come up with basically this same sentence on a bunch of different sites and nothing else relevant. Any confirmation that these beliefs existed and any sources or stories about walking or even otherwise sinister willows would be very appreciated thanks

2 Answers 2


This is not an account per se, but it is a source that proves such a belief existed in English folklore. Katharine Mary Briggs documents a Somerset rhyme that goes:

Ellum do grieve,
Oak he do hate,
Willow to walk,
If yew travels late

Dr. Briggs explains that the folksong embodies traditional beliefs that:

. . . if one elm tree is cut down, the one next him will die of grief, but if oaks are cut they will revenge themselves if they can. The lively way in which shoots spring from the roots of felled oaks probably contributes to this belief. A coppice of this kind is a dangerous place for humans to pass through at night. Willow is the worst of all, for he walks behind belated travellers muttering.

Source: Briggs, Katharine Mary. The fairies in tradition and literature. Psychology Press, 2002.

  • This is still exactly what I was after, something that confirms it, thank you!
    – Washtun
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 8:28

To expand slightly on the answer by @Semaphore.

In her An Encyclopedia of Fairies Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures (page 159), after the Somerset rhyme, Katharine Mary Briggs adds:

Tolkien is faithful to folk tradition in the ogre-ish behaviour of Old Man Willow.

Indeed, J.R.R. Tolkien would often draw from English folklore in the creation of his literary universe. Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if J.K. Rowling's inspiration for her Whomping Willow came from English folklore as well, either directly or through Tolkien.

  • 1
    You know to my shame I'd completely forgotten about Old Man Willow in lord of the rings, had I remembered I don't think I would've cast so much doubt on the sentence
    – Washtun
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 8:30

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