Backyard Ecology Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife

Pussy Willow

The fuzzy white flower buds that are so familiar before they open into full bloom. Photo credit: Avicennasis, public domain

Different species of willow can be found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. There are several species native to Kentucky and several exotic species can be found growing as ornamentals. The pussy willow (Salix discolor) is perhaps our most familiar native willow, even though it is not Kentucky’s most common native willow. In addition to growing naturally in the wild, pussy willow can also be planted as a native landscape shrub.

Pussy willow grows in open, wet areas as a medium to tall shrub. Kentucky is at the southern edge of its native range. Pussy willow blooms in the late winter and early spring, long before the leaves appear. The flowers form in tight clusters called catkins. Some pussy willows will produce all female flowers and some will produce all male flowers. The male flowers are the ones that everyone thinks of when they picture a pussy willow flower.

Catkins of male pussy willow flowers. Photo credit: Fyn Kynd, cc-by 2.0 

Pussy willows are important plants for insect pollinators and many species of wildlife. Since they are an early blooming shrub, they produce some of the earliest nectar and pollen for native bees, honey bees, and some species of butterflies. In addition, it is a host plant for the caterpillars of several species of butterflies and moths. Songbirds will eat the seeds and many mammal species will eat the twigs and leaves. Songbirds will also nest in its branches.

An exotic species, goat willow (Salix caprea), is also sometimes called pussy willow. It is popular in the horticulture trade because it has even larger fuzzy white flower buds and catkins than our native pussy willow. However, goat willow is native to Europe, not parts of North America. As with many plants, it is important to pay attention to the scientific names because many plant can share the same common name.


This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology. All of Shannon’s Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blogs can be found at https://shannontrimboli.com/posts/blog/.


Backyard Ecology: Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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