Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pussy Willows

Pussy Willows


Willow trees and bushes are dioecious.  That is, there are boy willow trees and there are girl willow trees.  But there are no "switch hitters".

Ironically, "pussy willows" are all male trees.  The pussy (tail) is the male (staminate) catkin.  The catkin has organs that produce pollen and other organs that produce nectar.


Bees


Bees need both pollen and nectar to produce young.  It takes a minimum of 21 days from when the queen starts laying eggs and when the young worker bees are mature enough to start foraging outside the hive.

Ideally, my beehives would be placed close to sources of pollen and nectar that "turn on" in a very big way starting about 30 days before my apple trees.  The source should have a very high density so the bees can load up quickly and make many round trips in a short period of time.  It is a bonus if the pollen is sticky, that facilitates the gathering and allows them to carry more on each trip.

This focus on efficiency is needed because early spring can offer few, short windows of good weather.  To a bee, good weather is +50 degrees (warmer is better) Fahrenheit, sunny and gentle breezes.  Depending on the year, the first week of April might offer anywhere between two and twenty hours that meet those conditions.


If you are lucky, you will see a fly visit this time lapse video at about the 39 second mark.  This willow is the European equivalent of our Salix discolor. 

A planting with several species of "pussy willows" fills the bill.  Pussy willows produce massive amounts of "sticky" pollen and decent amounts of nectar.  The picture in my head is of a twenty foot by fifty foot planting of multiple species with overlapping bloom times from late-March through April. I need to have the overlapping bloom period because I cannot schedule the windows of good weather.

Ideally, this planting will be within a hundred yards of my hives.

Willow Species


Willow species are a nightmare to identify.  Unfortunately (for me) the species I am confident identifying (Sandbar willow, Black willow, White willow, Weeping willow, Peachleaf willow) all bloom at the same time or after my apple trees.  They will not do me any good.

So this week's project is to walk assorted fields and drainage ditches and take cuttings of willows that I cannot identify.  I need to collect many specimens because only half of them will be boys. So far I am pretty confident that I have Salix discolor.  I may also have some Salix bebbiana and Salix eriocephala.

Cuttings of willows on left.  Cuttings of a seedling apple tree on the right
The apple cuttings are from a tree that I think is a seedling of MM111.  The tree has burr roots on it.  The apple is late, flattened (short core, donut shaped fruit).  Flesh is sweet and very slow to brown.  It would be cool to have a decent apple selection that I can propagate from cuttings.

Close up of some of the leaves clinging to one of the willow twigs.  I think this might be Salix eriocephala.  Regardless of the species, the close spacing of the leaves means the buds will be close together smf there will be a very high density of catkins
This is a poor time of year to work on this project.  I will also collect cuttings late-March through mid-April as the wild pussy willows show me what they have.

Part of this autumn's collecting is to simply find areas that have high densities of willow bushes so I can be more efficient in the spring. 

Note to self, added 11/13/2013:  Lake Interstate has many specimens of different willow species.

1 comment:

  1. I was on the phone yesterday with a large corporation, going through that modern Tn Tree Farm Nursery

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