The Best Spring Ever: Giant Pussy Willow in Bloom

What's so big about the so-called giant pussy willow? All Winter long, each of its nascent pussies is covered by a mahogany-colored scale as large as a kernel of corn. Showy? Oh my, yes—but not giant. When free-range, the tree isn't more than twenty feet tall. Not giant, either.


Salix chaenomeloides pussy with pollen mohawk further along 032716 640


Beginning in February, the pussies emerge; by Spring, as above, those on male trees, such as this one, begin displaying their myriad pollen-laden apetalous flowers. Flowers on the upper surface of the pussy emerge first, like some sort of floral mohawk. Below, the anthers emerge orange, but as the pollen itself emerges, they turn more and more yellow.

Salix chaenomeloides pussy with pollen mohawk 032716 640


It's these pussies that give Salix chaenomeloides its common name of giant pussy willow. By the time all of its flowers are out, each pussy is the size of a rabbit's foot.


Salix chaenomeloides pussy with fingers 032716 640


The tree's pussy-laden stems make sensational bouquets Winter through Spring. December through mid-February, I bring the still-bare stems to parties, where the sheathed pussies hide that this is a willow at all. February into March or April, the stems display the pussies that are more and more emergent. This middle stage of its floral cycle is a comparative lull: This pussy willow could be one of many other more generic forms.


But as the pussies come into full flower, this giant lives up to its name.  


Salix chaenomeloides pussy willow bouquet 032716 640


This enormous table-top bouquet was for Easter brunch. The holiday was early this year, and it proved to be too chilly to eat outside. So I moved the bouquet indoors, where it enjoyed same center stage as last year's "dead of Winter" bouquet of March 3. See the stems of this willow that were part of that bouquet, too? By early March, pussies were already emerging even though the Winter was unusually severe. Note how small the pussies were; they didn't give a hint of the giants they'd become in Spring. 


Here's how to grow giant pussy willow.

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