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Kitten Tails on a Stick

Another sure sign that spring is here in the Northeast is the blooming of Pussy Willow flowers. I remember as a kid seeing them in early spring in vases on the table at home and decorating the church on Palm Sundays. In some European countries and here in North America, the cut branches of willows in the Salix genus are carried as a substitute or along with Palm branches during Palm Sunday observances.

Male catkins showing golden yellow pollen. Pussy Willow trees are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are on separate trees.I remember "petting" the soft furry catkins or rubbing them on my nose. (A quality sensory experience as a child exploring the wonders of nature.) Some days later, after they had been basking in the warm sunlight streaming through the window, the gray "fur" gave way to tiny yellow flowers on slender filaments. The flowers eventually dusted the table top with fine pollen. That was a time when names and scientific explanations (though interesting) were secondary to my direct experience of the natural world around me. In fact, now that I think of it, this is STILL the way it is for me, though I have acquired much science and nature lore since then.

For some reason I just like the word "catkin", which comes from "katteken", an old Dutch word that means "kitten", owing to its resemblance to a kitten's soft furry tail. The American Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) is perhaps most familiar here in North America, but many other willows in the Salix genus produce similar flowers. Keep your eyes open for this tree in the woods as you are purging yourself of winter's "cabin fever". (Click photo to enlarge.)

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