Outdoors Magazine

Tree of the Month: My Old Friend the Pussy Willow

Posted on the 11 September 2017 by Hollis

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

View from the rim.


Sad to say, summer is ending. The days are cooler and shorter. The remaining wildflowers are late-bloomers of the sunflower family—gumweed, asters, rabbitbrush, snakeweed and sagebrush. And all of our deciduous trees have at least a few yellow leaves; in fact some have a lot. Cottonwood leaves litter my yard even though five weeks remain until University students show up to rake them—on that wonderful day of public service that accompanies Homecoming! Last year the leaves were late in falling; this year, the volunteer rakers will stay busy all morning.In honor of the monthly gathering of tree-followers, I checked on an old friend to see how he was faring with the changing seasons—the American pussy willow I followed in 2015. (I’m not totally anthropomorphizing. Salix discolor is dioecious and this tree is male.) One big change was visible right away—signs and barriers. The open space east of town has long been “closed” to motorized vehicles, but enforcement wasn’t feasible. These recently-installed deterrents seem to be doing the job.

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Path to Willow Canyon. Weird light is due to smoke from forest fires hundreds of miles to the west.

The eponymous willow of Willow Canyon was looking great, with a full green canopy—maybe because we had lots of early-season moisture. Here are views of the top of the tree from the canyon rim. I estimate it to be about 15 feet tall.

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Willow canopy in foreground, junipers behind. Rocks are limestone.

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
Scattered yellow leaves verified that summer is indeed coming to an end. But I also found signs of spring!—abundant bright red buds. From these, pussy feet will emerge in late winter (I cut a few open to be sure). By then, the bud scales will have turned black.
Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Silky hairs of emerging male catkins, February 2015.

From the head of the canyon, a rough trail leads down to the limestone alcove where the willow grows, below a jump that becomes a waterfall after heavy rain. The tree is well shaded—and almost hidden—by junipers.

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Willow (arrow) is hard to spot from the canyon bottom.

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
I entered the alcove as carefully and quietly as I could. But all the elves, fairies, sprites and pixies that surely live there must have heard me coming. I saw none … though I think I heard rustling as they scurried away.
Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow
Years ago, a seed germinated and a young plant managed to survive in a limestone crevice. Now a large willow grows in this dry rocky little canyon, largely hidden from view. That's magical!

Tree of the Month: my old friend the Pussy Willow

Note size of stems—this willow has been around for awhile.


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