Let’s play word association. I’ll give you three things and tell me what you think: robins banging their beaks in the ground in search of worms, shamrock shakes and the flowers of Black Pussy Willow. How many of you immediately thought of spring? Since I’m not an ornithologist or epicurean, I’ll talk about the Black Pussy Willow, Salix melanostachys. Salix is the botanical genus for all of the willows and source of salicylic acid, the chemical derivative of the bark and leaves, the precursor of aspirin. Melanostachys breaks down to black (melano) spike (stachys).
There are not too many plants whose flowers give the illusion of being black. Take a close look at the male catkins (flowers) of this willow. You’ll see the purple-black catkins opening to bright red anthers. This is no common member of the all too familiar image from movies and literature of the weeping willow growing at the water’s edge. The Black Pussy Willow is by no means as graceful and pendent as its cousin. This black sheep is nothing short of a neatly behaved blob ! It will reach 10 ft. in height and tolerates a wet site. Every three to four years cut the plant to the ground to rejuvenate.
To enjoy the beauty of the classic weeping willow, you need to look no further than the Duck Pond on campus. Our Black Pussy Willow is located in the mixed shrub border at the south end of the track known as the Seamus McElligott garden.
And you know where to get your shamrock shake.