Pussy Willow, Salix discolor

Pussy Willow

Salix discolor

Benefits:
Sun Shade:
Bloom Time: Spring
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Color: White
Fragrance: No
Height: 10 - 20 feet
Spacing: 5 - 10 feet


Description

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor ) 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 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
  If growing this plant as an ornamental, make sure to purchase a male plant which will produce the showy late winter catkins.
  Plants may be regularly cut back for use as a hedge.
  Stems with catkins may be cut in spring for indoor arrangements.
  Because the seeds remain viable for only a week or two, they must be sown immediately.
Further Information

Wild Ones of the Fox Valley Area
Prairie Nursery
Wisconsin DNR
Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries