dwarf grey willow

Pussy Willow

Pussy willow is a name given to many of the smaller species of the genus Salix (willows and sallows) when their furry catkins are young in early spring. These species include (among many others):

Before the male catkins of these species come into full flower they are covered in fine, greyish fur, leading to a fancied likeness to tiny cats, also known as "pussies". The catkins appear long before the sallow leaves, and are one of the earliest signs of spring. At other times of year trees of most of these species are usually known by their ordinary names.

Cultural traditions

The flowering shoots of pussy willow are used both in Europe and America for spring religious decoration on Palm Sunday, as a replacement for palm branches, which do not grow that far north.

Russian Orthodox, Polish and Bavarian Roman Catholics, and various other East European peoples carry pussy willows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches (which do not grow that far north). This custom has continued to this day among Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Polish Catholic, and Ukrainian Catholic emigrees in North America. Sometimes, on Palm Sunday they will bless both palms and pussywillows in church. The branches will often be preserved throughout the year in the family's icon corner.

Pussy willow also plays a predominant role in Polish Dyngus Day (Easter Monday) observances, continued also among Polish-Americans, especially in the Buffalo, New York area.

The term is also sometimes used in a derogatory way to describe a meek or half-hearted attempt to do something, especially in golf.

Modern cultural references

  • In The Sound of Music when Maria asks Marta what one of her favorite things are, she replies "pussy willow" (during the song "My Favourite Things")
  • In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Imogene Herdman gets the part of Mary for the Christmas pageant from Alice Wendlekin by threatening to stick a pussy willow down her ear. The author then goes on to explain that Ollie Herdman stuck one down his own ear, got an earache, and had to be taken to the hospital, put under, and have the sprouted pussy willow dug out of his ear.
  • In an episode of Roseanne, the title character reminds Jackie of a time in their childhood when she made Jackie shove a pussywillow up her nose and had to go to the emergency room.
  • In Spider-Man, Aunt May often accidentally uses the word Pussywillow instead of Pussycat, which was common slang during the 1960's
  • In 1982, the rock band Jethro Tull released a song called "Pussy Willow". The song depicted a young woman who lived in a fantasy world too often shattered by the typewriter sounds of her dead-end job. The Pussywillow is a tree outside of the young woman's home.
  • In Episode 89 of The Simpsons: Boy-Scoutz 'N the Hood Ned Flanders informs Bart that when he receives his rubber training knife in the junior campers that he has attained the rank of "Pussywillow".
  • In the Syd Barrett album The Madcap Laughs. The song Dark Globe starts with the line "oh where are you now? pussy willow that smiled on this leaf".
  • In Serial Mom, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) torments neighbor Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole) by saying "pussywillows" in a very vulgar-sounding way.
  • In 1968, the musician Gordon Lightfoot released a song called "Pussywillows, Cat-Tails." on the album Did She Mention My Name? with United Artists.

In "Leaving the Temple in Nimes," the penultimate poem of his last book, Above the River, Pulitzer prize winning poet James Wright presents the figure of an American girl, putatively a symbol of healing and spring, carrying and offering to Walt Whitman, an armful of pussy willow.

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