Image of pussy willow salix discolorNothing says Spring is just around the corner than spotting Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) on your travels in the woods.  It seems it is a time honoured tradition to prune off a few branches and bring them home to add a little Spring in the house.

If you love Pussy Willow as much as we do, we encourage you to plant them in your landscape.  These small trees will not only be your annual Spring reminder; a properly maintained Pussy Willow allows you to showcase this great native species with maximum impact on your landscape.

The Details

Salix discolor thrives in full sun and moist soils, but tolerates somewhat drier soils better than most other willows.  This tree can grow 6-15 feet high and can spread anywhere from 4-12 feet.  It is a wonderful food source for game and song birds, larval host for a large variety of butterflies and moths, provides pollen for native bees, and provides cover and nesting sites for a wide variety of birds.

Garden Uses

Pussy Willow makes and excellent hedge or can be used when naturalizing an area.  Prune as needed in the late winter to early spring.  It would be ideal to plant this in moist soils along streams, ponds, or in low spots in the landscape where other shrubs or small trees may struggle.

image of pussy willow salix discolor infographicIf you are looking for more of a controlled shape or hedge, Pussy Willow should be pruned annually.  Plants may be cut to the ground every 3-5 years to maintain a smaller shrub shape.

If you plan to grow this plant as an ornamental, we advise that you purchase a male plant, which is known to produce attractive silky pearl gray catkins in the late winter.  These catkins resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, hence the common name.

Medicinal Uses

Pussy Willow has long been used as a remedy for the treatment of fevers, arthritis, muscular aches, inflammation, and other conditions.  Before the invention of pharmaceutical drugs, willow’s use as a medicine was relatively common.  First Nation’s peoples in North America have used various willow species for the purpose of healing.  In fact, the use of Willows for medicinal use has been seen as far back as the ancient Sumer and Egyptian civilizations.

Pussy Willow contains salicylates or salicylic acid; this was used to create Aspirin in the 1900s.

Species Profile: Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)