Common Name: pussy willow
Type: Deciduous shrub
Native Range: North America
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 6.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 4.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Yellow stamens/greenish styles
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Suggested Use: Hedge, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy, Good Cut, Good Dried
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer, Erosion, Wet Soil, Black Walnut
Grow in average, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers full sun. Thrives in moist soils, but tolerates somewhat drier soils better than most other willows. Intolerant of dry soils. Prune as needed in late winter to early spring. Plants may be cut to the ground every 3-5 years to maintain a smaller shrub shape.
Salix discolor is native from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and south to Maryland, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa. In Missouri, it once reportedly grew in Clark County in the far northeastern corner of the state (Steyermark). Throughout its range, it is typically found growing in moist to wet soils in meadows, swamps and along lakes and streams, but also will be found in some drier conditions. This is a dioecious species (male and female catkins appearing on separate trees) that is most often seen as a large multi-stemmed shrub to 6-15’ tall, but is less frequently found as a small tree to 30’ tall. Before the foliage emerges in late winter (March in St. Louis), male trees produce a showy display of catkins (1-1.5” long) that are pearl gray and silky. Female trees produce smaller, less attractive, greenish catkins. Male pussy willows are noted for producing ornamentally attractive silky pearl gray catkins on leafless stems in late winter to early spring. These catkins purportedly resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, hence the common name. Elliptic to lanceolate leaves (to 5” long) with irregular marginal teeth are dull medium green above and glaucous beneath. Variable fall color is usually an undistinguished greenish-yellow.
Genus name is an ancient Latin name for willows.
Specific epithet relates the two different colors of the catkins (males are yellowish and females are greenish). Catkins of this species are smaller than the catkins that appear on the European/Asian native plant commonly called goat willow (Salix caprea).
Susceptible to numerous disease problems including blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots, gray scab and cankers. It also is visited by many insect pests including aphids, scale, borers, lacebugs and caterpillars. Wood is weak and may crack. Branches may be damaged by ice and snow. Litter from leaves, twigs and branches may be a problem. Shallow roots may clog sewers or drains and make gardening underneath the plants difficult.
If growing this plant as an ornamental, make sure to purchase a male plant which will produce the showy late winter catkins. Pussy willow may be grown in moist soils along streams, ponds or in low spots in the landscape where other shrubs or small trees may falter. It will also grow in average garden soils. Plants may be regularly cut back for use as a hedge. Stems with catkins may be cut in spring for indoor arrangements.