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Pussy Willows (page 2 of 3)

by Patricia Acton with the NG

Some Choice Willows

Florist's pussy willow (Salix caprea), also known as French, goat, or pink willow; USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8. The large gray catkins gradually yellow as they mature. Their appearance in late winter before the leaves is a cheering sight. Without pruning, these willows grow to 20 feet or more. They tolerate dry soil. 'Weeping Sally' is a graceful, pendulous form with arching branches, usually grafted to reach 6 to 8 feet in height; it looks lovely beside a small pond.

Japanese pussy willow (S. chaenomeloides), also called quince-leafed pussy willow; zones 5 through 8. This recent introduction is one of the best for winter cutting. Ray Prag, owner of Forestfarm nursery in Oregon, who grows more than 70 kinds of willows, says this one has the biggest catkins, up to 2-1/2 inches long. They're silvery gray and take on a pink cast as they age. Equally significant, their bare winter stems are a rich mahogany red.

This willow was brought here from Korea in the 1980s by plant explorer Barry Yinger. It grows fast, to 20 feet in three years if left unpruned. Plant it where it has room and prune heavily in late winter before leaves emerge. Even when cut back annually, it often produces up to 9-foot stems!

Black pussy willow (S. gracilistyla melanostachys); zones 5 through 8. The anthers on the nearly black catkins turn yellow, producing a striking show that goes on for weeks. It is very finely branched, usually all the way to the ground, and never throws long simple stems like most pussy willows. This makes it impossible to display them in the same way. Instead, use fewer, shorter stems, perhaps mixed with other plants. Or use short, 8-inch sections in small vases. Leaves turn yellow before dropping, very late. Girth equals height, usually 6 to 10 feet. Considering its bronze-purple winter stems, this plant has little "down time." Maintain black pussy willow with aggressive annual pruning as soon as catkins begin to drop and leaves are emerging.

Corkscrew willow (S. matsudana 'Tortuosa'), also called dragon's claw willow; zones 5 through 7. The branches of this 20- to 30-foot tree twist and turn every which way, and its catkins are prominent. Overall, this is one of the best for indoor decoration.

Fantail willow (S. udensis 'Sekka'; formerly S. sachalinensis 'Sekka'); zones 5 through 7. Its unusual twisted stems are broad and flattened at their ends, a genetic condition botanists know as fasciation. Look for a plant with a lot of these branches, as some plants are more heavily fasciated than others. The small, silvery catkins mature to a soft yellow, and are very numerous. I counted 50 clustered along 30 inches of branch. The long, dark green leaves turn yellow in fall, and the supple branches sway in every breeze.

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