Salix discolor Muhl.

pussy willow

New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

Where native and non-native distributions co-occur in a county, only the native distribution is shown.

North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Pussy willow produces silver, velvety upright catkins on leafless stems late in winter that are reminiscent of tiny cat feet. Only male trees produce these catkins. Although cuttings of male plants of wild pussy willow make attractive fresh and dried flower arrangements in early spring, the shrubs themselves are hard to cultivate and are subject to many insect pests and diseases. Their branches are also quite brittle.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), meadows and fields, shores of rivers or lakes, swamps, wetland margins (edges of wetlands)

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a shrub (a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
Leaf type
the leaf blade is simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
Leaves per node
there is one leaf per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
  • the edge of the leaf blade has no teeth or lobes
  • the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
Leaf duration
the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
armature on plant
the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns
Leaf blade length
30–100 mm
Leaf blade width
10–35 mm
Leaf stalk
the leaves have leaf stalks
Fruit type (general)
the fruit is dry and splits open when ripe
Bark texture
  • the bark of an adult plant is ridged or plated
  • the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
Twig winter color
  • brown
  • gray
  • red
  • yellow
Bud scale number
there is one scale on the winter bud, and it covers the scale like a cap
Show All Characteristics
  • Buds or leaf scars
    Bud scale number
    there is one scale on the winter bud, and it covers the scale like a cap
    Bud scar shape (Fraxinus)
    NA
    Leaf scar arrangement
    there is one leaf scar per node on the stem or twig
    Winter bud scales
    the winter bud is perulate (partially or completely covered with one or more scales)
    Winter bud stalks
    the winter buds have no stalks
  • Flowers
    Anther color
    • the anthers show no hint of a pink, reddish or purplish tint
    • there is a noticeable pink, reddish or purplish tint to the anthers
    Carpels fused
    the carpels are fused to one another
    Enlarged sterile flowers
    there are no enlarged sterile flowers on the plant
    Flower petal color
    NA
    Flower symmetry
    NA
    Hairs on ovary (Amelanchier)
    NA
    Inflorescence position
    the inflorescences grow on the twigs
    Inflorescence type
    the inflorescence is an ament (catkin; slender, usually pendulous inflorescence with crowded unisexual flowers)
    Number of pistils
    1
    Ovary position
    the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    NA
    Petal appearance
    NA
    Petal fusion
    NA
    Sepal appearance
    NA
    Sepal cilia (Ilex)
    NA
    Sepal tip glands
    NA
    Sepals fused only to sepals
    NA
    Stamen number
    1 or 2
    Stamen position relative to petals
    NA
    Stamens fused
    the stamens are not fused to one another
  • Fruits or seeds
    Berry color
    NA
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is dry and splits open when ripe
    Fruit type (specific)
    the fruit is a capsule (splits along two or more seams, apical teeth or pores when dry, to release two or more seeds)
    Nut with spines (Fagaceae)
    NA
  • Glands or sap
    Sap color
    the sap is clear and watery
    Stalked glands on fruit (Rosa)
    NA
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a shrub (a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    • the underside of the leaf has hairs on it
    • the underside of the leaf has no hairs
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    • the upper side of the leaf is fuzzy or hairy
    • the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf blade base shape
    the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    Leaf blade base symmetry
    the leaf blade base is symmetrical
    Leaf blade bloom
    there is a noticeable powdery or waxy bloom on the underside of the leaf
    Leaf blade edges
    • the edge of the leaf blade has no teeth or lobes
    • the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
    Leaf blade edges (Acer)
    NA
    Leaf blade flatness
    the leaf is flat (planar) at the edges
    Leaf blade hairs
    at least some of the hairs on the leaf blade are reddish-brown, and they do not have glands
    Leaf blade length
    30–100 mm
    Leaf blade scales
    there are no scales on the leaf blades
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is elliptic (widest near the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is lanceolate (lance-shaped; widest below the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is oblanceolate (lance-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    • the leaf blade is obovate (egg-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    Leaf blade texture
    the leaf blade is coriaceous (has a firm, leathery texture)
    Leaf blade translucent dots
    there are no translucent dots on the leaf blade
    Leaf blade vein pattern
    the main veins of the leaf blade are pinnate (the secondary veins branch off at intervals from the main central vein) and non-arcuate (not arched towards the leaf tip)
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base toward the tip
    Leaf blade width
    10–35 mm
    Leaf duration
    the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
    Leaf form
    the plant is broad-leaved (with broadly flattened leaf blades)
    Leaf lobe tips (Quercus)
    NA
    Leaf stalk
    the leaves have leaf stalks
    Leaf stalk attachment to leaf
    the petiole attaches at the basal margin of the leaf blade
    Leaf stalk nectaries
    there are no nectaries on the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk shape
    the leaf stalk is not flattened
    Leaf teeth
    • the edge of the leaf blade is entire (has no teeth or lobes)
    • the leaf blade margin is crenate (with rounded teeth) or crenulate (with tiny, rounded teeth)
    • the leaf blade margin is serrate (with forward-pointing teeth) or dentate (with outward-pointing teeth)
    • the leaf blade margin is undulate (wavy), but does not have teeth
    Leaf teeth hairs (Carya)
    NA
    Leaf type
    the leaf blade is simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Leaves per node
    there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Specific leaf type
    the leaves are simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets
    Stipules
    the plant has stipules
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • edges of wetlands
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
    • shores of rivers or lakes
    • swamps
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the plant does not have much of an odor, or it has an unpleasant or repellant odor
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Aerial roots
    the plant has no aerial roots
    Bark texture
    • the bark of an adult plant is ridged or plated
    • the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
    Branch brittleness (willows only)
    the branches are flexible, and do not break easily
    Branch cross-section
    the branch is circular in cross-section, or it has five or more sides, so that there are no sharp angles
    First-year cane (Rubus)
    NA
    Lenticels on twigs
    there are no lenticels on the twigs, or they are very hard to see
    Pith type
    the pith inside the twig is solid, completely filled with spongy tissue
    Short shoots
    there are no peg- or knob-like shoots present
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hairs
    • the twigs have few or no hairs on them
    • the twigs have hairs, but the hairs do not have glands
    Twig papillae (Vaccinium species only)
    NA
    Twig scales
    there are no scales on the twig surface
    Twig winter color
    • brown
    • gray
    • red
    • yellow
    Wings on branch
    the branch does not have wings on it
    armature on plant
    the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns

Wetland Status

Usually occurs in wetlands, but occasionally in non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FACW)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Salix bebbiana:
branchlets and winter buds red to red-brown, leaf blades without red-brown hairs, and floral scales tan to red at the apex (vs. S. discolor, with branchlets and winter buds not both red to red-brown, leaf blades sometimes with red-brown hairs intermixed with the gray ones, and floral scales dark at the apex). Salix humilis: leaf blades thicker, moderately to densely hairy on the lower surface and fruiting catkins usually 15-32 mm long (vs. S. discolor, with leaf blades thinner, sparsely hairy to lacking hairs on the lower surface and fruiting catkins usually 40-108 mm long).

Synonyms

  • Salix ancorifera Fern.

Family

Salicaceae

Genus

Salix

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

10.  Salix discolor Muhl. N

pussy willow. Salix ancorifera Fern. • CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT; nearly throughout. Fields, roadsides, waste areas, swamps, wetland margins, shorelines.

6×10. Salix bebbiana × Salix discolor Salix ×‌beschelii Boivin is a rare willow hybrid known from MA. The plants generally resemble S. discolor, but the leaf blades have thicker texture with weak 
rugose veins abaxially, the floral bracts are red-brown (rather than nearly black at the apex), and the ovary stipes are 2.5–4.5 mm long (rather than 2–2.7 mm long).

10×12. Salix discolor × Salix eriocephala This uncommon willow hybrid is known from MA, ME. It resembles S. discolor except that the leaf blades are ± elliptic (vs. elliptic to oblanceolate or obovate), and the marginal teeth are more numerous and relatively sharper. The ovaries show sparse pubescence during flower (vs. densely pubescent in S. discolor and glabrous in S. eriocephala).

10×15. Salix discolor × Salix humilis Salix ×‌conifera Wangenh. is an uncommon willow hybrid known from MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. It mostly closely resembles S. humilis in the thicker, reticulate-veiny, and abaxially tomentose leaf blades and pubescent branchlets but has more elongate carpellate aments, longer styles, and longer petioles that are intermediate between the parental species (27–55 mm long, 0.3–0.5 mm long, and 5–16 mm long, respectively, in the hybrid vs. 8–32 mm long, 0.2–0.4 mm long, and mostly 3–7 mm, respectively, in S. humilis).