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for Spring 2020

Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys'

gracilistyla = slender style

melanostachys = black spikes  

Black Pussy Willow

A tall spreading shrub with upright branches with twigs that are felted with gray indumentum. The unique male catkins are produced in masses before the leaves in February-March and open ruby-red before turning black. They are particularly showy especially when the anthers appear, dark orange at first, turning yellow. Native of Japan, Korea, China. Flower-bud hardy to Zone 5; after a hard winter (–25°F) ours flower sparsely in our Zone 4 climate, but it grows well here. In 2012–2014 they flowered prodigiously; after –25°F for thirty straight nights in 2015 we had zero flowers! Plants OK!

USES: ornamental shrub as a focal point, by pools or ponds; great cut flower stems in late winter. Cut four days before Valentine’s Day and have red pussies to liven your home and that will gradually turn black.

indumentum = felty covering

Cut stems of Black Pussy Willow catkins in late February-March.

Here shown with the Giant Pussy Willow--Salix 'Winter Glory'.

Unique catkins that open black then out pop the red anthers!



Leaves appear later than the flowers and are smooth on both sides. Young leaves start red, then quickly turn green. Stems are red at first and turn green due to shade from the leaves.

This is a shot from the plant at right!

A large mature plant at the Chicago Botanic Garden displaying the spreading habit of the plant!

It's almost three times as wide as it is tall! Hard to see the flowers, but they are there in their hundreds!

An overwintering flower bud and green stipule. The tip of the flower bud is quite different from that of S. gracilistyla; as is the lack of the dense hairs found in the species.

Male catkins with pink anthers that turn cream when the pollen sacs open.

A coppiced plant in the truly delightful Wave Hill Gardens, in the Bronx NY.

Shown in early October with Colchicum (fall crocus) alongside.

The tip of a vigorous shoot showing the flower buds in the axils of the leaves, The red coloring will intensify once the leaves fall, exposing the bud to more sun. Early October.

The habit of young growth is very dense on the stems with short internodes between the leaves and prominent stipules at the bases of the leaves.

Undersides of the leaves shown in bright sun and shade.

Left at Wave Hill, right in the nursery 3 weeks later in late October.

Upper sides of leaves in the nursery in late October on young thin shoots.


of Michael Dodge