The hairy glory of a pussy willow waiting to bloom – 15th February

London is bathing in the first signs of spring and crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils are adding flesh and colour to green spaces. The skeleton of summer is starting to form.  

Look up and you’ll see pussy willow have popped out of their water-tight winter pods. These buds – which are flowers before they’ve bloomed – are covered in a soft, mammal-like fluff to keep them warm in the cold weather. Their other name is ‘cats’ paws’ and you can see why.

A pussy willow is a type of catkin and when it blooms it produces tightly bunched stamens (on male flowers) and carpels (on females). They are generally considered to be ‘non-attractive’ flowers but what they lack in looks they make up for by producing strong scented nectar and blooming early. In February there’s little around so pollinators are not in a position to be picky about which flowers they fraternise with. With unseasonably warm weather this year these early bloomers could be more important than ever.  

I picked a branch of pussy willow and put it in a jug of water at home so I could see how they bloom close-up. Mine was male and has produced yellow pollen-bearing stamens. It is significantly less cute now and looks like some alien virus. Willows are really important to native insects (especially bees) and are second only oaks in terms of wildlife importance.

It’s a beautiful, strange transformation. Much more interesting than conventional flowers. Keep an eye on the ones outside (normally found by water), they should be starting to bloom soon.

Tweet pictures of your pussy willow with #rewildinglondon. Also keep your eye on hazel trees and magnolia as they are also blooming. There is a beautiful magnolia in the Barbican centre for any readers who work in central London.

I know a little pussy – the nursery rhyme

I know a little pussy.

Her coat is silver grey.

She lives out in meadow,

So very far away.

She’ll always be a pussy.

She’ll never be a cat.

‘Cause she’s a pussy willow.

Now what do you think of that?

Pussy_willow_branchpussy-willow

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