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10 Neat Things About Pussy Willow
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

March 1, 2015

1. Smigus-dyngus.

Pussy willows were a player on Easter Monday or Wet Monday, a Polish celebration also known in the United States as Dyngus Day. Boys would sneak into the houses of the girls they admired and throw water on them, often while they were still asleep (or pretending to be) then spank them with pussy willows. Often, they would get really excited and throw the girl into a nearby stream or other body of water. Supposedly, the girls had the chance to reciprocate the next day, but this seems to be a much lower key event.

2. The name thing.

Salix discolor is the North American species of pussy willow. In northern Europe, the variety is Salix cinerea, the grey willow, or Salix caprea, the goat willow, which also extends to Asia.

3. Tender-hearted willow.

A Polish legend says that pussy willows got their names through an act of mercy. One day some tiny kittens were chasing butterflies on the banks of a river. They fell in. Their frantic mother cried pitifully because she didn't know how to save them. The riverbank willows heard her and came to the rescue. Ever since, the willow branches sprout the furry buds where the kittens once placed their pretty paws.

4. Beethoven died for it.

Willow bark contains a potent drug called salicin, an analgesic related to today's aspirin. Ludwig von Beethoven is said to have ingested large amounts of salicin before he died. It is believed that it shut down his kidneys.

5. Rods of life.

Pussy willows were used by the Roman goddess, Libra, to initiate women into motherhood through ritual flogging. This belief in the powers of regeneration may stem from the fact that a willow stick, plunged into fertile ground, will often sprout and grow.

6. Lady willow.

Willows are associated with the moon and water - all that is feminine. It is the tree of dreaming, of intuition, deep emotion and enchantment.

7. Eager willow.

Willows are always eager. Their very name, Salix, from the Latin salire, is rooted in the term to spring forth, to sally, to emerge with a sudden burst of emotion. Pussy willow is the first plant to flower in spring, an advantage because it is dioecious, meaning that there are male trees and female trees that need the help of pollinators to mate. The ever-ready male flowers first, and when his pollen appears it means life for early pollinators.

8. Plain Jane wife.

The female pussy willow is a rather plain thing with spiny green flowers that grow fat with pollination before they develop seeds. The seeds mature in June when the female carpels burst, releasing tiny white parachutes that get caught on the wind and dance toward their destiny.

9. I want pussy willows.

If you cannot find these tender little shrubs at your local nursery, try planting a couple of sticks from a bouquet. You can root them in water - it takes a few weeks - and then transplant in a nice boggy, sunny area. Salix discolor grows no taller than 30 feet and eight feet wide, so give it lots of room to grow and spread its roots. It will attract early butterflies and birds, and in pussy willow season you can feel free to cut as many as you like. It thrives under heavy pruning.

10. Chinese New Year flower.

Pussy willow is the favourite flower of the Chinese New Year. To the Chinese, pussy willows stand for prosperity. Branches are gathered and put in vases decorated with bits of red paper or cloth.

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