Pussy willows galore

 

Pussy willow type branches

Pussy willow type branches

I saw them three weeks ago, and pretended I didn’t. I’m not ready for winter to be over, but pussy willows are softly gleaming like thousands of very tiny grey mice on a massive bush near our house.

Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are catkins, the silvery furry flower of some willow shrubs. There are male pussy willows, where the catkins develop dangling yellow fuzzy bits, and female pussy willow bushes, which don’t. Alders and birch also have catkins. On an alder, males and females grow on the same branch, but here, too, the short round ones are female, long and dangly are a male. Sure makes it easy to remember which is which.

This pussy willow bush has a gentle curve to the all the branches, and the catkins grow opposite each other, not alternating as they do on Salix discolor. Maybe it is a related species. We do have the classic Salix discolor growing nearby, with fatter catkins and tall straight branches, but I like the slim wild look of these pussy willows. I like, too, that they are so very plentiful I can gather them and give little bouquets to friends.

I admire the soft grey little nubs; they look elegant arching out of a tall thin tube of galls. But what really perks me up about gathering pussy willow is that it reminds me to go get other branches. Birch, alder, and red maple have chartreuse or magenta spring growth. These are all still long weeks away from opening, but I cut them by the armful, sometimes along with some forsythia, and put them in a bucket by the wood stove. There they will open while their outdoor relatives are still tightly closed against a possible March or April storm.

As I watch the leaves and flowers slowly unfold, I feel the first vague stirrings of my internal spring. “Not yet,” I protest, and wonder as I do every year why I perform this ritual, this calling of spring and thaw and growth.

Perhaps it is a reminder that winter will soon be gone, the bright whites replaced with mud before we finally get to green. Pussy willows are commonly called harbingers of spring, but they are winter plants, blooming in the snow.

I’m not ready for spring yet, but pussy willows I can handle.

 

pussywillowbush

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.