It is time to begin regularly inspecting the willow collection in the Arnold Arboretum. Today, Salix gracilistyla, the rose-gold pussy willow, was on the move. With remnants of yesterday’s rain beaded on the tips of what appear to be some fairly hydrophobic hairs (upper image), a specimen right off of Meadow Road (930-74*A) was magnificent. Each droplet of water magnified and distorted the innumerable and newly emerged hairs (trichomes to a plant anatomist) of the catkins.

To get a sense of how fast things are changing, in January (lower left photograph), the catkins were tightly sealed in beautiful and subtly colored bud scales. Looking ahead to March (lower right, taken March 9, 2016), the catkins will be in their full glory. Dozens and dozens of male flowers (willows are dioecious, with plants bearing either pollen-producing catkins or seed producing catkins) will have expanded their stamens filled with bright yellow pollen. Before the pollen sacs open, they are red on the outside. After the pollen is gone, they appear black.

willows in flower by Ned Friedman
Ned Friedman

Just because there is still snow on the ground and temperatures tomorrow night will dip into the teens does not mean that the trees of the Arnold Arboretum are slumbering. Everywhere, if you look carefully, you will find buds swelling, bud scales pulling apart a bit, and other signs that winter is coming to a close.

(If you crave more Arnold Arboretum plant images, follow my Instagram account: @nedfriedman.)