Pussy Willow, Salix discolor

Pussy Willow

Salix discolor

Benefits: Pollinator Benefit Graphic
Sun Shade: Plant Light Requirements Graphic
Bloom Time: Spring
Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Color: White
Fragrance: No
Height: 10-20 feet
Spacing: 5-10 feet

Pussy Willow, Salix discolor, is typically found growing in moist to wet soils in meadows, swamps and along lakes and streams, but also will be found in some drier conditions. This is a dioecious species (male and female catkins appearing on separate trees) that is most often seen as a large multi-stemmed shrub up to 6-15 feet tall, but is less frequently found as a small tree to 30 feet tall.

Before the foliage emerges, male trees produce a showy display of catkins (1-1.5 inches long) that are pearl gray and silky. Female trees produce smaller, less attractive, greenish catkins. Male pussy willows are noted for producing ornamentally attractive silky pearl gray catkins on leafless stems in late winter to early spring. These catkins purportedly resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, hence the common name. Elliptic to lanceolate leaves (to 5 inches long) with irregular marginal teeth are dull medium green above and glaucous beneath. Variable fall color is usually an undistinguished greenish-yellow.

The blooming period occurs from early to mid-spring for about 2 weeks. The female florets are replaced by seed capsules about 1/3-inch long. During the summer, these capsules split open to release tiny seeds with cottony hairs. These seeds are distributed by wind or water. The root system is woody, branching, and shallow.

Habitats include openings in floodplain forests, soggy thickets, marshes, shrub swamps, fens, low areas along rivers and other bodies of water, wet prairies, and ditches. This shrub is found in both sandy and non-sandy habitats. In areas that are prone to invasion by trees, some disturbance is necessary to maintain populations of this species.

Grow in average, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers full sun. Thrives in moist soils, but tolerates somewhat drier soils better than most other willows. Intolerant of dry soils. Prune as needed in late winter to early spring. Plants may be cut to the ground every 3-5 years to maintain a smaller shrub shape.

 Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  Bumblebees, butterflies, flies, and ants visit the Pussy Willow flowers for nectar and pollen.
  Pussywillows provide the first and most important bee foraging plants.
  If you are growing this plant as an ornamental, make sure to purchase a male plant which will produce the showy late winter catkins.
  May be regularly cut back for use as a hedge.
  Stems with catkins may be cut in spring for indoor arrangements.
  Willow seeds remain viable for only a week or two, they must be sown immediately.
 Further Information

 Wisconsin Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Edible Berry Shrubs
 Widsconsin Edible Plants-Eat On The Wild Side
 8 Dandelion Recipes
 Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries

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