One of the earliest harbingers of spring is the Salix caprea, more popularly known as pussy willow or goat willow. It appears in late winter to very early spring, earlier than even the crocuses or daffodils. Pussy willow is easily identified by its white to light gray furry “catkins”, which are actually a type of flower.
The pussy willow in our yard appeared this spring, one of those arbitrary plants that pop up when you purchase an old house that’s been gardened by many different generations. Last summer, I almost dug it up, as it was infested with beetles. But instead, I cut it back, and I’m so glad I did.
This certainly didn’t happen last year. If it had, I wouldn’t have even considered chopping it down. So, it remains for now, right next to the flowering quince, which will bloom soon, too.
The above photo was taken a couple of weeks ago. This weekend, I had even more reason to like this plant in my yard. Suddenly, it started to change, sprouting little yellow spikes of pollen, and the bees can’t get enough of it.
About Pussy Willow
Salix caprea is a deciduous plant native to parts of Europe and Asia, and introduced here in the United States. It is actually a type of small tree, typically growing between 8 to 10 feet tall and sometimes as tall as 13 feet or more. Pussy willow thrives in a sunny spot that is also wet, as the roots love to spread, which makes it a great plant for a sunny bank or for shoring up soggy spots in your yard.
In spring, the calyx appear along the branches as very soft gray or white balls, and then gradually turn to larger, spiky balls covered in pollen. Eventually, the “flowers” fall off, and green leaves appear.
Given the spring timing of the flowering, suitable companion plants include bulbs such as daffodil, tulip, and crocus.
Pussy willow branches, when cut in early spring before they produce pollen, are great additions to seasonal bouquets, and air dry beautifully so they can be used year round.