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GOAT WILLOW or PUSSY WILLOW : Salix caprea

Also known as great sallow.

The official name of goat willow is a bit confusing. Perhaps it has something to do with the amount of hairy fluff that its catkins drop. The alternate name of pussy willow is pobably better known. The Woodland Trust suggests that it refers to the catkins looking like cats' paws. Anyone with a cat that sheds profusely in early summer may see a more appropriate association. Wiki thinks the catkins look like small cats. "Pussy willow" can refer to many of the smaller species of the genus Salix (willows and sallows) when their furry catkins are young in early spring. Our tree here is more specifically a "goat willow".

Mature trees grow to 10m and can live for 300 years.

Unlike most willows which have elongated leaves, the goat willow has oval leaves slightly pointed at their ends.  They are hairless above, but with a felty coating of fine grey hairs underneath. Another feature to note is the way the pointed ends twist slightly to one side.

The goat willow is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate trees. In early spring, the catkins develop. The male catkins are grey, stout and oval and become yellow when ripe with pollen. The female catkins longer and green.

Once pollinated by wind the female catkins develop into woolly seeds. These can be seen on the trees in distinctive fluffy areas amongst the leaves. In due course they drop off and can become quite a sight along paths.

They can be confused with the grey willow. Hybridisation with them is known.

The flowering shoots of pussy willow are used both in Europe and America for spring religious decoration on Palm Sunday, as a replacement for palm branches, which do not grow that far north. 

It enters literature too. Amongst others, Pussy Willow, a children's book by Margaret Wise Brown tells the story of a grey "pussycat not much bigger than a pussywillow". And in popular music, we find references to it by Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Early signs of catkins in mid-February, wet from a light morning rain.

Emerging catkins in April. Also note the new leaves which have a silvery felt underside.

Some branches of a goat willow.

A close up of the same area. A ripe catkin at the top right and catkins turned into fluffy masses to the bottom. Note the oval leaves with the points slightly twisted to one side.

Quite a fluffy mess along the Leven towpath.


WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy_willow

WILDLIFE TRUST : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/goat-willow/

WOODLAND TRUST : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/goat-willow/

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