Pussy Willow

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Pussy Willow

Male Pussy Willow Flowers

Pussy Willow, Salix discolor, is our native North American Pussy Willow. A variety of species are spread all across the northern hemisphere. These willows are a large shrub adapted to open areas with adequate moisture.

This native is a spreading open shrub that is hardy in zones 4 to 8. Pussy Willows will grow to 6′ to 15′ tall and 4′ to 12′ wide as a large shrub or to 30′ when trained as a small tree. They thrive in medium to wet soils but, will do poorly in dry soils.

They are cherished for their early spring blooms which begin to appear in March and April. Their odd name comes from the furry soft male flowers or catkins that form in early spring. These flowers resemble the fur of a young kitten.

As these flowers open, the yellow stamens appear. These are the pollen producing structures of the male flowers. This pollen is very important to bees of all kinds. For honeybees in particular, this pollen along with lengthening days signal the queen to begin laying eggs and building brood numbers for the spring.

Pussy Willows are a trouble free plant. They are tolerant of deer and can live with Black Walnut trees. To maintain them as a shrub, they can be cut back to the ground every 3 to 5 years. This may seem drastic but, it is good for the willows and removes any dead wood and dense growth that shades the lower branches. To train as a small tree, select a single or multiple trunks and remove all others. Then remove lower limbs to train it to be more tree like.

Pussy Willows are cherished in all northern areas as a reminder that spring is returning and winter will soon pass. Stems are often cut in late winter and brought inside and forced to bloom in a vase while the snow is still flying outside.

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