Pussy Willow: An Early Spring Feature (Salix discolor)

pussy-willow

 

Last summer I came across the Pussy Willow shrub somewhere among my research. I had always seen its stems put into floral arrangements (or even faux ones that light up!) but never really thought of it much as a plant. The native variety around Kentucky, and much of North America is Salix discolor. Of course different varieties have been bred, but the native variety is still really cool and pretty.

It prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade. It has been found is moist type soils around stream and lake banks and meadows, but will tolerate drier conditions too. However, it does not like dry soil conditions. It is a shrub that will grow 6′-20′ tall. It can tolerate being pruned back, which is good for us because then we get to put it in decorative arrangements. If pruned heavily every few years it will flourish. It has separate male and female species and it is said that the males produce larger and prettier catkins, which are yellow on the ends. The female catkins are more green It has lanceolate shaped leaves about 5″ long with a slight serrate on the edges.

It is great for wildlife and butterflies. It will attract the Viceroy and Mourning Cloak butterfly and is a host for them, which means the caterpillars will eat its leaves.

It will form buds during the fall which will be a red color along its stems. These will get bigger all winter and in late winter (it fuzzed out early March here in KY) the bud covering will break and out will come these fuzzy things that look like kitty’s toes. They will continue to fuzz out until they make their pollen. This happened in early April in Kentucky this year. This is when people cut the stems to use as arrangements. I didn’t do that this year because mine is still a small shrub.

They can easily be propagated from cuttings, as the willow species has a special chemical in it which makes cuttings root quickly. You can even use the cutting as root starter. Just soak a stem for a couple of days in water and add the cutting from another plant.

 

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