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<   No. 4017   2019-06-18   >

Comic #4017

1 Iki Piki: Quercus, come with us. We might need some muscle. Or good hard branches. Or whatever.
2 Quercus: Hard branches are hardly necessary. My cousin's a willow, and he has a reputation for whomping people.
3 Iki Piki: Your cousin's a willow? How does that even work, genetically?
4 Quercus: I was just making a Harry Potter joke.
4 Iki Piki: Oh.

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Here's the strip that inspired #4015.

I started writing this strip with the joke in mind: "But Quercus doesn't have any muscles!" (since he's a tree, see?) But then I realised I'd already done that joke.

So I swerved and thought about where it would go if Iki Piki realised "muscle" is technically incorrect, and tried for something less pedantically objectionable. This led to hard branches, and then I decided Quercus's response could be something about soft branches being good enough, and that led me to a joke about the Whomping Willow from Harry Potter.

Now, when I was growing up, my grandparents had a willow tree in their back yard. Specifically, it was a weeping willow. So I always thought I knew what willow trees looked like. Willow trees are actually very rare in Sydney where I live. I'm honestly not sure that I've ever seen more than a dozen or so willow trees in my entire life.

weeping willow 1

Photo by Victorvb, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, from Wikimedia Commons.

weeping willow 1

Photo by Fragbringer, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, from Wikimedia Commons.

Anyway, wind forward to the first time I was reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It describes Ron's father's car landing in the branches of the Whomping Willow in the grounds of Hogwarts. Naturally, in my mind's eye I saw it as a weeping willow, very similar to the tree in my grandparents' back yard.

Wind forward again to the release of the film of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Whomping Willow is depicted on screen. But when I saw it my reaction was very much, "What the heck is that thing? That's not a willow tree at all! Why on Earth would they take a tree that's clearly supposed to be a willow tree in the book and show it ... well, I don't even know what that horrid thing is."

For years I was disappointed that the movie makers, for whatever stupid reason, had decided to depict the Whomping Willow as some bizarre misshapen thing that was so obviously, clearly, unmistakeably not a willow tree. Why? Why would anyone even do such a thing? It's called a willow tree, why not show it as a willow tree??

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the film was released in November 2002. It's now 2019. For 16 and a half years I've been peeved at the makers of that film for ruining the Whomping Willow.

Wind forward to a few days ago, when I wrote this comic. As part of my research I looked up willow trees on Wikipedia. I discovered that willows are actually a genus, Salix, of roughly 400 different species of tree, and that "weeping willow" is just one species (Salix babylonica) and some hybrids with that species. I learnt that in fact most willows don't look at all like weeping willows.

And scrolling down Wikipedia's page, I saw this:

weeping willow 1

Photo by Demeester, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, from Wikimedia Commons.

Wait a minute!!! That looks just like the Whomping Willow from the movie!! What?!?

And then I discovered that not only do most willows not look like weeping willows, some of them actually look like the Whomping Willow, because of the practice of pollarding, which is pruning away the upper branches of a tree to promote a dense head of foliage. What's more, Wikipedia's page on pollarding showed several more examples of pollarding on willow trees, which seem to be the most popular types of tree for this practice.

Who knew??

Well, obviously not me. As I said, there are virtually no willow trees where I live, and certainly none pruned like this. I simply had no idea. 🤯

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