Navigate / search

Honey bee forage: pussy willow

A male pussy willow is one of the best trees for the bee yard because it will bloom especially early in the year. Beekeepers often plant them close to the apiary to help the bees through the pollen-scarce months of March and April when little else is in flower.

The term “pussy willow” refers to several species of willows that get furry gray catkins. In the states, the term usually refers to Salix discolor, a native to North America. In northern Europe it often refers to Salix caprea, although there are many others as well.

The catkins appear very early in the year before the leaves. The furry stage is actually the bud stage of the flower. Later, the fur disappears and is replaced by either male or female flowers, depending on which type of plant you have. Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. Although only the male flowers produce pollen, both sexes produce nectar.

Pussy willows are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. In warm winters, the buds may appear as early as late February or early March. According to several sources, the nectar can be plentiful, but it may occur too early for honey bees to fly. However, many native bees—including mason, andrena, and bumble bees—are often seen happily sipping up the nectar.

The medium yellow pollen from the male trees is considered to be of average quality in terms of its nutritional contribution to honey bees, having a crude protein content between 20-25%. However, it is certainly better than nothing. If it is warm enough to fly, your honey bees will benefit from this early and plentiful source of nutrition.

Rusty

Pussy willow in bud stage. Flickr photo by Phil Sellens.
Pussy willow in flowering stage. Flickr photo by Smudge 9000.

Comments

joy
Reply

How do you tell a male pussy willow from a female?
I can start cuttings if I know.

Robert Niles
Reply

Thank you for the great article on Salix discolor – we had a couple 50+ degree days last week and the bees were bringing in pollen – in February – and I couldn’t figure out from where. Anyway, I noticed the silver with a tad bit of yellow from a neighbor’s tree and he said it was Pussy Willow. I had to go look it up and there’s your article! Awesome! I think it explains that pollen the bees were bringing in as I see nothing else blooming at all!!

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website