Pussywillows on Steroids

A few years ago a friend gave me a couple of cut stems of a special pussywillow. I got them in the spring while dormant, before the leaves had come out. I pushed the stems deep into wet soil, they rooted and grew. This year for the first time they blossomed, producing a multitude of large, furry gems. Not only that, this pussywillows is distinctive in that some of the stems are curved or twisted, and some stems are flattened out near their ends, creating flat stems loaded with the catkins.

These willow stems, left in a dry vase, will look the same a few months from now.

I hate to admit it, but I had no recollection of the name of this type of pussywillows, and if I’d labeled the plants, those labels were long gone. But after a Google search, I found the name. This type is called Japanese fantail willow or dragon willow. Its scientific name has been Salix sachalinensis 'Sekka', but recently it has been has  been changed to Salix udensis ‘Sekka’.  It is hardy to Zone 4, surviving temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees.

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Fantail willow grows to be 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. They are fast-growing and I’ve read that, like most willows, they are weak-wooded and prone to breakage. I have not had any breakage on mine, however. The bark on first year stems is a nice reddish-brown and quite handsome.

The catkins on fantail willow are larger than on the usual wild willows I have.

If you want to try some, you can order them from the Vermont Willow Nursery in Fairfield, Vermont. I spoke to Michael Dodge, the owner, who has some 150 different kinds of willow. They will ship dormant stems that you can plant by pushing them into wet soil. They are a great addition to any wet spot.

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