For all the fancy flowers in the garden, I can’t help loving pussy willow.
Plants of the common willow, goat willow or ‘sally’ (Salix caprea) are either male or female and while the female plants have smaller catkins that result in cottony fluff in early summer as the seeds are released, it is the male plants that catch the eye at this time of year. For weeks the bud scales have been dropping off the catkins, revealing tiny, silvery velvet humps. But now they are expanding and are irresistible to stroke. It is rather peculiar but I just can’t help myself from stroking the silky hairs. A little later the stamens emerge, at first from the base of the catkin, to release masses of pollen. Most catkins on other plants are wind pollinated but these willow catkins are visited by bumblebees so a willow is good for my sol and the bees.
As it happens mine are not actually wild willows but Salix daphnoides that I planted. The stems are dark and a good contrast to the ‘pussies’.
As a child I also knew the plant as ‘palm’ which seems decidedly odd but refers to the fact that it is traditionally used, in Northern Europe, on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). Palm trees would not grow so palm leaves were not available and pussy willow was used as a substitute, presumably because it was reliably available around Easter, whenever that fell.
I associate pussy willow with Easter and with daffodils and the two look perfect in a vase. And what would be nicer than a bunch of pussy willow hung with eggs and chicks?
‘Mount Aso’, which I promise not to mention again for a few years, loses some of its charm once the catkins start to release pollen, and can’t beat the traditional kinds, but I have been enjoying the pink pussies for weeks so I can’t complain.
No mention of pussies would be complete without featuring Mia, who keeps an eye on watering the penstemons in the greenhouse.
A nice show at this time of the year.