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Published In: Der Gesellsschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin, neue Schriften 4: 234–235, pl. 6, f. 1. 1803. (Ges. Naturf. Freunde Berlin Neue Schriften) Name publication detail

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 9/22/2017)
Acceptance : Accepted
Project Data     (Last Modified On 7/9/2009)
Status: Native


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4. Salix discolor Muhl. (pussy willow)

Pl. 555 l, m; Map 2576

Plants shrubs or occasionally small trees, 2–4 m tall, sometimes clonal from suckers or stem fragmentation. Trunks with the bark finely ridged, gray to grayish brown. Branches flexible at the base, dark reddish brown or yellowish brown. Branchlets yellowish brown or more commonly reddish brown to dark purplish brown, variously glaucous or not, sparsely to densely pubescent with short, straight hairs, becoming glabrous or nearly so with age. Winter buds blunt at the tip, the scale margins fused. Leaves alternate. Petioles 6–17 mm long, lacking glands, the upper side hairy. Stipules minute to well-developed, sometimes persistent through the growing season, pointed at the tip. Leaf blades 3–9(–12) cm long, mostly 2–6 times as long as wide, narrowly elliptic to elliptic, oblanceolate, or obovate, angled or short-tapered to a bluntly or sharply pointed tip, broadly to less commonly narrowly angled at the base, the margins flat or somewhat wavy, bluntly and finely toothed or scalloped (rarely nearly entire), the upper surface shiny or dull, sparsely and inconspicuously hairy to glabrous, the undersurface glaucous, sparsely hairy or glabrous. Catkins flowering before the leaves appear, sessile or on very short flowering branchlets; the bracts 1.5–2.5 mm long, entire, pointed (sometimes very bluntly so) at the tip, black with brown marginal bands and/or a pale base, moderately to densely and evenly hairy, persistent at fruiting; the staminate catkins 2–5 cm long; the pistillate catkins 3–11 cm long. Staminate flowers with 2 stamens, the filaments free, sometimes hairy at the base; nectary 1. Pistillate flowers with the style fused to the tip, unbranched, the stigmas 2, linear; nectary 1. Fruits 6–11 mm long, on stalks 1–3 mm long. 2n=76, 114. February–April.

Uncommon, northeastern Missouri (northeastern U.S. west to North Dakota, Missouri, and disjunctly Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota; also Canada). Fens; also railroads and moist disturbed areas.

The fertile branches of the pussy willow often are cut and gathered in late-winter and early spring for display indoors in vases. The attractive budding catkins with their bracts bearing soft, silky hairs have a fanciful resemblance to the pads of cats’ feet. Two Old World species, S. caprea L. (goat willow) and S. cinerea L. (gray willow) are also cultivated in the Midwest as pussy willows. These have not escaped from cultivation in Missouri, but may persist from plantings for many years. A specimen of S. cinerea accessioned at the Missouri Botanical Garden herbarium was collected in 2004 in Webster County (Yatskievych et al., 04-210) along the wooded margin of a sinkhole pond. There was only a solitary old tree (which thus could not reproduce by seed), obviously long-persistent from a planting at a former homesite. Salix cinerea resembles the native S. discolor, but differs in its much more densely woolly young leaves with the fine tertiary veins more prominently raised and often more or less parallel (vs. not raised and irregular). Also, if the bark is removed from three- to five-year old branches, the wood of S. cinerea has prominent longitudinal ridges and lines called striae (these absent or short and indistinct in S. discolor).

Currently, Salix discolor has been documented as a native component of the flora only from a historical collection from Clark County and a more recent one from Schuyler County. It should be searched for in other wetlands in the northeastern portion of the state. Isolated occurrences farther south represent escapes from cultivation. A hybrid between S. discolor and S. humilis (Salix ×conifera Wangenh.) has been documented from the mixed population in northern Schuyler County. It has the woolly leaf pubescence of S. humilis and the longer catkins and styles of S. discolor.



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