Pussy Willow in Bloom

Recently I posted a photo of fuzzy white buds on a pussy willow (Salix discolor). Well, the buds have since burst into bloom, and the trails are lined with shrubs covered in fluffy yellow-white flowers.

My coworker Julia (yes, Julia from the porcupine video) and I spent a while examining the flowers on this particular willow, trying to make sense of their anatomy. All we could find were flowers with lots and lots of female parts – no stamens or pollen to be seen.

Finally we figured out what was going on: pussy willows are diecious, with male and female flowers on completely separate plants. The pollen was being provided by the willow growing on the other side of the trail (and yes, there were handsome orange-bottomed bumblebees shuttling back and forth between them).

The other mysterious bit of willow anatomy we puzzled over was the large cone-like structures on the ends of some of the branches. Surely this isn’t what a willow’s fruit looks like?

On a hunch I Googled “pussy willow galls” and sure enough it turns out that these are elaborate galls produced by a tiny midge laying an egg at the tip of an actively growing twig. The midge hijacks the willow’s normal growth and causes it to instead produce layers and layers of leaves at one spot, forming this protective structure around the larva. Definitely one of the most complex and fascinating galls I’ve come across.

I took these photos on Wednesday; this morning we were reminded that by North Woods standards, this is still winter, when we woke up to a thin layer of snow on our cars. Oh well – it seems like just about every year there’s a last freeze after the plants and frogs and everything have gotten started, and they still seem to do all right. Have a good weekend!

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7 thoughts on “Pussy Willow in Bloom

  1. Thank you for that post! Several years ago I took what I thought was going to be a throw away photo of pussy willows using the flash. I was very surprised with the way the flowers lit up almost like a fiber optic light. I tried to duplicate those results on purpose every year since, but it hasn’t worked. The reason is that the throw away shot was of male flowers, and I have been shooting female flowers every year since. Now I have got to go find some male pussy willows before they are done for the year, if I’m not too late already.

    • Ha – like I said, we spent several very confused minutes staring at the flowers on the female plant, trying to figure out where the heck the pollen was! I agree that the male flowers are very photogenic. I really like how both of the picture of them I included turned out.

  2. Nothing to do with willows of any kind, but today whilst perambulating the pooches, I saw a Robin gathering nesting material. In this case, about 10 inches of cord from a mini-blind, plastic toggle included. oh, those “green” urbanites will reuse anything! and speaking of green, my car has been covered with a lovely green coat of “love dust” from the maple trees. ahh, spring. lust is in the air.

  3. This is hilarious–I just spent part of my evening last night also puzzling over willow flowers. I was like, “Where are the anthers?!” Interestingly, while our female flowers are open, the male flowers have yet to mature, so thanks for the preview–they’re pretty!

    Plus, I love the way the little stigmas are double-bifurcate. Plants are weird and awesome. :)

  4. Pingback: Willow, willow « Backyard and Beyond

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