Pussy Willow: Wildflower Wednesday

– Posted in: Native/Invasive
8 comments

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines by William CullinaFor Wildflower Wednesday, I try to feature a native plant growing wild on our property. I took a walk on Monday to see what was blooming, and found only one plant blooming, a shrub which looked to me like a pussy willow. I looked through my books and discovered that’s exactly what it was: Salix discolor, the pussy willow. This surprised me a little bit, because I thought those decorative pussy willows sold everywhere in late winter were of European origin. According to William Cullina, author of Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines they are: “Most of the cut pussy willows sold by florists are European, especially florist’s willow (S. caprea), and gray florist’s willow (S. cinerea), or Asian, including the black willow (S. melanostachys), from Japan.” But S. discolor, which is native, is also called pussy willow, and has the familiar catkins as well.

The native pussy willow is dioecious, meaning the male and female catkins are on different plants. I found both types growing right next to each other on my walk. They were getting beyond the furry “pussy” stage.

male pussy willow salix discolor

This is the male, or pollen-bearing, pussy willow, looking rather sodden from the rain. You can see the familiar furry catkins in the background.

According to Cullina, there is a reason for that cute, pettable “fur”:

The silver-haired pussy willow catkins are really designed to trap sunlight. Like a miniature greenhouse, the catkin’s interior heats up well above the ambient air temperature, allowing it to grow in the cold of late winter.

female pussy willow salix discolor

These are the female catkins, found on a shrub close by the male one.

A wide variety of creatures find this native pussy willow useful.

Flower Buds as Food

  • Finches
  • Grouse
  • Cardinals

Pollen

  • Sweat bees
  • Adrenid bees

Leaves as Larvae Food

  • Twin-Spotted Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus jamaicensis)
  • New England Buck Moth (Hemileuca lucina)
  • Frosted Dagger Moth (Acronicta hastulifera)
  • Impressed Dagger Moth (Acronicta impressa)
  • Red-Winged Sallow Moth (Xystopeplus rufago)
  • False Sphinx Moth (Pheosia rimosa)
  • Sigmoid Prominent Moth (Clostera albosigma)
  • White Furcula (Furcula borealis)
  • White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)
  • Western Admiral (L. weidemeyerii)
  • Orange-Tip Admiral (L. lorquini)
  • Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)
  • Comma Tortoise Shell (Nymphalis vau-album)
  • Mourning Cloak (N. antiopa)
  • Aspen Dusky Wing (Erynnis icelus)

In addition, many small mammals browse the twigs in winter, and many birds take cover or nest in the branches.

On our land, the native pussy willow grows along the edges of our little brook in the places where it tends to overflow its banks and make a swamp area. It also grows on the bank of our pond.

I took that walk on Monday, and since then, we’ve had yet more rain, but also quite a bit of warmth. I bet there will be more native plants blooming soon. I know I had seen a trout lily in bud on my walk. This time of year, there are changes every day. What wildflowers are blooming in your garden?

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogasphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Dee/reddirtramblings April 30, 2011, 3:49 pm

Kathy, that was so interesting. I don’t think we have pussy willows here, but I just love the name, don’t you?~~Dee

Kim April 29, 2011, 12:06 pm

I love pussywillows! Thanks for the post. I may have to try one in my backyard!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 27, 2011, 7:46 pm

It’s funny you describe the catkins as “pettable.” I do like to pet them. (And I thought I was the only one!) I had no idea it was such a great plant for wildlife.

Carol at OhWhatABeautifulGarden-Chicagoland.com April 27, 2011, 2:33 pm

We’ve had so much rain in Chicagoland, I’d have to sploosh between the mud and puddles and raindrops just to see what is blooming. The good news is that the birds don’t mind. Even if I can’t go out, I can open a door or window to hear their wonderful songs.

Frances April 27, 2011, 12:28 pm

Hi Kathy, thanks for lots of new information on the sweet willows. I thought they European as well, glad to know different!

Layanee April 27, 2011, 11:42 am

Nice! Love those first catkins of spring.

Gail April 27, 2011, 11:05 am

Kathy, I love pussy willows! The critter info is stellar. That’s a lot of critters standing in the queue for that plant. gail

Jenn @ Frugal Upstate April 27, 2011, 9:27 am

Between my lawn and the neighbors I’ve seen grape hyacinth, crocus, snowdrops and couple of trout lilies.