Life

Pussy willow trees ready to burst from weather 0

Ted Meseyton, From the Garden
Ted Meseyton/Submitted photo...Andy Gross of Woodland Colony near Poplar Point told the Singing Gardener that pussy willows like bunny tails are quite an achievement of Mother Nature in late November. He shows the picture to prove it.

Ted Meseyton/Submitted photo...Andy Gross of Woodland Colony near Poplar Point told the Singing Gardener that pussy willows like bunny tails are quite an achievement of Mother Nature in late November. He shows the picture to prove it.

The common name for Salix caprea is pussy willow and some catkins are bursting at the tail end of this eleventh month leading into the cusp of December.

RECENTLY, ANDY GROSS

. has been enjoying the phenomenal weather. Lo and behold! What did Andy's eyes spot along a walking trail through the bush? His leisurely stroll led to a group of pussy willow trees. He described them as "bursting and not just a few, with many others ready to pop."

Andy told me he has "observed a lot of folks walking about, but feels they're not all necessarily in tune with nature. Maybe they're looking at their shoes," he chuckled.

I spoke with Wilbert Ronald ...

of Jeffries Nurseries, and we discussed what impact this might have on pussy willow trees later on down the road.

Wilbert's impression was: "zero impact in my view."

He pointed out that "vernalization," or the period of cold we normally experience "hasn't been met yet." Wilbert also mentioned "pussy willow buds do get very big and can become quite wooly in appearance" during the sort of weather we're experiencing. However, they need to be triggered a lot more by cold to achieve the same development we see in spring.

Looking ahead

Pussy willows are . a sure symbol of spring and extend a wonderful greeting. Their furry little catkins act like a warm coat to protect the flowers inside. Harvesting begins anytime from Valentine's Day to well into March when the willows are still real tight.

Does anyone out there make wreaths around a metal ring frame using real pussy willow material? It's a project worth considering. They can be gracefully curved by capable hands, but may also snap as though brittle. A soaking in water often improves pliability. Such wreaths may be enhanced by adding early budding branches from other seasonal flowering shrubs, but remember their blooms do not have the floral life span of pussy willows.

These wreaths stay attractive from Easter onward and even remain handsome when Christmas approaches. Colourful bows and ribbons can be added for the holiday season. There's no end to pussy willow creativity. You can enhance those delightful silver catkins by adding a choice of greens from a variety of cedars, firs and other holiday plants.

What about pruning?

It's a question often asked. The best time to prune pussy willows is after those buds have finished flowering in late spring. Each year, prune out about one-third of a mature tree's branches. Depending on structure, cut back to a central trunk or right to the ground, especially removing the oldest limbs. This is called coppice pruning.

Severe pruning keeps the tree more compact, promotes vigorous re-growth and ensures a load of pussy willows. Every four or five years, you can shear an entire wild or nursery grown pussy willow close to the ground. That part sounds drastic, I know.

Some pussy willow history ...

from centuries ago in ancient Europe. Branches of pussy willows were given the name "Rods Of Life" and used in initiating fertility and motherhood. In Poland and Ukraine, people touch one another on Palm Sunday with pussy willows. The tradition commemorates the scourging of Jesus and is known as: God's Wounds.

Both tannin, used in leather tanning, and salicin can be extracted from willow bark. Salicin is a substance similar to an active ingredient in many pharmacy pain relievers and anti-fever medications. North American aboriginals knew how to extract it from willow bark and their roots. Willow tree wood is known to crackle intensely when burned.

Final thought

If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.

Ted Meseyton is the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie. His e-mail address is singinggardener@mts.net


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