Monday Melange: Common Pussy Willow Print E-mail
Written by Heleigh Bostwick    Monday, 18 March 2013
Pussy Willow catkins

For many of us, the fuzzy silvery-gray catkins of the pussy willow (Salix discolor) are a harbinger of spring. A member of the Willow plant family (Salicaceae), pussy willow’s range extends from Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada south to West Virginia and across to Montana and Colorado and almost all of the Canadian provinces. Common pussy willow is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub or small tree and is hardy between USDA zones 4 and 8.

While the common pussy willow is the one grown for ornamental purposes and used in flower arrangements, many willow shrubs produce the fuzzy catkins--including coastal plain willow (S. caroliniana) and goat willow (S. caprea) both of which are introduced and grow in the southern US--and referred to as pussy willows.

Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are male plants (with male flowers) and female plants (with female flowers). In the case of pussy willows, these flowers are called catkins, a botanical term for modified flowers. Appearing in late winter or early spring, it is the fuzzy, one-inch long silvery-gray male catkins that are showy.

In the wild, pussy willows are often found along stream beds in gravelly, sandy soils and tolerate wet soils. They prefer full sun or partial shade. Providing winter interest and beloved by birds and other wildlife, pussy willows are a good choice for pond edges, meandering streams or swales, or in soggy low-lying areas in the yard. They also make good hedges. Common pussy willow is listed as historical in Kentucky.