When we're children, we love pussy willows for their velvety catkins; as adults, we're drawn to their stark beauty in a simple arrangement. Salix caprea, also known as florist's, goat, or French pussy willow, produces its soft gray catkins in late winter or early spring. But if you can't wait until then, cut some branches while they're still buding, and force them to bloom indoors.
To make your own arrangement, simply crosscut the woody stems at the base to encourage water absorption, and place the branches in a vase filled with tepid water and floral preservative. Pussy willow branches need little arranging; they will naturally fan out to fill a vase. To make an display of several varieties of pussy willow, tie a small bunch of each kind with raffia, and arrange the tied bunches together in a vase. Phil Mueller, of Star Valley Flowers in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, suggests the following varieties.
Florist's pussy willow (Salix caprea)
This erect, small growing tree will mature to a height of 15 to 25 feet with a 12- to 15-foot spread. It has yellowish to dark-brown stems and large catkins. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Japanese pussy willow (Salix chaenomeloides)
One of the best for cutting, this variety has large pink-tinted catkins and yellow-orange anthers. It is extremely easy to grow and will mature to a height of 15 to 20 feet. Hardy in Zones 6-8.
Pussy willow (Salix discolor)
Known as the true pussy willow, this small tree is probably a familiar sight, with gray (almost bluish white) catkins and deep-brown branches. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Woolly willow (Salix lanata)
This small shrub (2 to 4 feet high and slightly wider) has wonderful gray foliage and bright golden catkins. It does well in cooler climates, such as Zones 3-5.
Black pussy willow (Salix melanostachys)
The stems of this 6- to 10-foot-high shrub assume a rich purple-black color in winter. In the spring, the catkins open in the deep purple -- black shade but brighten with brick-red anthers. The Japanese native grows in Zones 4-7.
Purpleosier willow (Salix purpurea)
With very thin blond bark and striking burgundy catkins, this dense, finely branched shrub grows 8 to 10 feet high. It is ideal for wet areas -- especially to stabilize banks along streams and ponds. Hardy in Zones 3-6.
Japanese fantail willow (Salix sachalinensis)
Known as Japanese fantail willow for its uniquely twisted branches that are sometimes flat, this variety grows 10 to 15 feet high and forms a wide-spreading shrub, with an abundance of silky gray catkins produced along reddish purple stems. Hardy in Zones 4-7.