A goat willow’s flowers, or catkins, known as pussy willow because they look like furry grey kittens’ paws, appear in February, one of the earliest signs of spring in the park.
Goat willow, Salix caprea, also called sallow, is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate trees. The male catkins are round, grey and fluffy, becoming yellow when they are ripe with pollen; the female catkins are longer, spikier and greener.
 Male goat willow catkins ripe with pollen and  female catkins. Both pictures taken in the park.
We have lots of goat willow; it likes our damp clay soil. It’s a coloniser that seeds prolifically and germinates best in the boundary between woodland and meadow. Keep a look out for pussy willow catkins as you walk in the park this weekend; can you tell if they are male or female?
Header picture: pussy willow by Heineken (CC BY-SA 3.0)