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Salix discolor

Salix discolor
pussy willow
Salix discolor
Buds encased in ice after a December bout of freezing rain

Common name pussy willow
Family salicaceae
Life cycle shrub
Flowers catkins in early spring
Cultural notes prefers moist soil

Even though this is a bit of a one-season wonder, we enjoy having it in our garden, just for the early-spring cheer. By mid-March, the reddish buds start opening to reveal the grayish-white fuzzy catkins inside. The leaves don't come until later, after the pussies have finished their show. Another steadfast feature of this plant: it's a magnet for Japanese beetles. Every year, by the time I spot the first of the foul creatures elsewhere in the garden, I can be sure that the pussy willow is already under full-scale attack. I don't know if that's good (makes it easier kill a whole bunch of the beetles all at once) or bad (attracts beetles from all over the neighborhood).

pussy willow
Salix discolor
Cool transition from the silvery-fuzzy to the golden stage - with a little red thrown in
pussy willow
One day in late summer, I noticed a large number of bulbous growths on the stems of our pussy willow, with new twig growth continuing from the thickened parts. I did some research, and found that these galls are the work of the willow beaked gall midge, a small fly whose larvae grow inside the woody galls until they mature and emerge as adults in spring. I investigated one of the galls, cracking open its woody interior, but could not find any sign of a larva inside. Perhaps I needed a microscope to see what I was looking for. Supposedly the galls are unlikely to seriously affect our willow, so I'm just going to leave them be.

We left this plant behind in our Pennsylvania garden (and wish it well); we don't grow it in Houston.

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