Your Very Own Pussywillows


If you went to the Niverville Home and Garden Show in southeastern Manitoba today, you would have found me there, clutching old issues of The Prairie Garden and asking every Master Gardener I came across the same question: “So my fancy willows I ordered are locked at the post office for the weekend - do you think they’ll be ok? Will they really be alright though?”

After some thought the experts would extend kind reassurances that yes, they’d probably be okay, probably dormant, not leafed out yet. And I keep nodding to myself even now, hours later, that yes, they will probably be alright, you know. After all, it’s a willow.

Got a ditch? Got a marsh? Got yourself a riparian landscape? (Riparian is a lovely word, means the ecosystem is relating to a stream, creek, pond, wetland, river; from Latin ripa: riverbank).

Get Thee Some Willows!

I haven’t laid my eyes on my first fancy willows (aforementioned post-office snafu, turns out they aren't open weekends!!!), but half my yard is stocked with native Salix species members a.k.a. pussywillows. After taking a field guide out, I seem to have two varieties of willows: smaller fluffy ones and extra big fluffy ones. 

"Pussywillows are instant elegance, in April."

pussywillow boquet

While the property I’m on has a high, dry, component of prairie habitat, the back forty isn’t as how-you-say... pretty. It’s not easy to traverse, has numerous ponds, can flood in spring, and is home to gargantuan plants like cow parsnip - not to mention snapping turtles, a cheeky woodchuck, salamanders (things I didn’t know Manitoba had), approx. 43,000 frogs that sing in a heavenly chorus each spring, and a soccer stadium’s worth of fireflies. This habitat comes to an abrupt halt at a rapidly running cold, narrow, clear stream of water we call the crick, filtered to a pristine clean by the massive wetlands just east of here. All in all, my back forty is what we would call riparian, but if you got just a big ol’ wet spot in your yard, that’s a good willow site too. So why would you plant them?

Salix: The Sales Pitch

1. Willows give you pussywillows, and you can select a salix variety for showy ones especially. Pussywillows are a.k.a. catkins, which is still a feline-related name and adorable. Some of these catkins are male, some are female - don’t ask me to ID them, I am just learning here folks - point is they are fuzzy, and some are prettier than others.

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