Black Cat® Pussywillow – February 2021

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Fuzzy Black Pussywillow Brings Springtime Magic!

Black Cat® Pussywillow (Salix chaenomeloides) has earned recognition as our February 2021 Plant of the Month for its fuzzy catkins and late winter interest! This shrub kicks off the gardening season as early as possible. Starting in late winter, you’ll see long, straight stems peppered with silvery-pink and black buds. As the days get longer and warmer (even if only by a tiny bit), the buds lengthen into prominent, textured catkins.

What Is A Catkin?

Technically, It's A Flower Spike.

When you think of a flower, you probably don’t imagine the fuzzy catkins we see on Black Cat® Pussywillow. However, botanically speaking, these catkins are unisexual flowers! They take all the reproductive parts of the flower and packs them into slim, cylindrical flower clusters we call catkins. They don’t need petals to attract any pollinators. Instead, male catkins simply release their pollen into the wind, where it will eventually find another female catkin.

Close up of the densely-packed black flower clusters on a Black Cat Pussywillow shrub
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Why Does It Flower So Early?

Though it is uncommon to flower in late winter (especially in colder climates), there are some advantages to reproducing at this time of year! Wind pollinated plants heavily rely on a lot of pollen and a little bit of luck for reproduction. No one can control where the wind blows, so male pollen reaching a female flower all happens by chance. To increase their odds, they release pollen in late winter/early spring, when other plants lack leaves and flowers. This means fewer obstacles in the path between flowers. Plus, they don’t have to wait until insects return in warmer weather for this all to happen!

To protect the catkins from freezing, they are covered in the fuzzy protective layer we have come to know and love. It provides insulation for all those precious reproductive parts.

Bring The Magic Indoors!

The branches of pussywillow are a favorite in cut flower arrangements since it serves as a reminder that spring is near. Cut them at their peak-fuzziness before they fully flower. You can use them fresh, but the willow buds will last much longer and won’t open if dried. Arrange pussywillow branches alone to let the fuzzy catkins shine, or use them as an accent with other foliage and flowers.

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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