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  • Rosie Allisstone

Catching a cluster of catkins dancing

Catching a cluster of catkins dancing in motion in the winter gales is like watching clouds of pollen disperse like yellow smoke. This is particularly true of our native hazel catkins which pump out masses of pollen, in the hope of pollinating other hazels. Essentially, catkins are long slim clusters of tiny flowers, without petals, and the seeds are tiny, borne on the wind. Hazel actually have both male and female flowers on the same plant, the male flowers being the catkins, the females being vase-shaped buds with red filaments extending out, funky in themselves. These buds become nuts in the autumn, if pollinated.

Such pretty winter tails grow on many other trees. Alder catkins are just as attractive as the lime yellow hazels. They tend to be much more subtle, hanging in purples and limes, often with the rounded dark bronze cones from the autumn, and evident along river-banks through February.

Possibly it’s pussy willow most of us think of when we talk of catkins. In early spring male catkins are 4-5 cm long and yellow, whilst the females are shorter and narrower. After pollination, however, the female catkins develop small capsules containing tiny seeds encased in white feathery down. It’s this that you’ll see in many florists, the white fluffiness along strong stems, perfect for flower arranging. The classic species is Salix caprea, or goat willow, and the catkins change from silvery to golden yellow

as spring progresses. Another willow beauty is Salix purpurea, which has beautiful purple stems.

For a winter sparkle, especially in the depths of February, there is nothing more beautiful than a jug of upright pussy willow, or a small vase of birch or hazel catkins with snowdrops. A simple, but perfect touch to your kitchen table.

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