A couple of weeks ago I came across several pussy willows (Salix discolor, Salicaceae) in various reproductive stages. These large shrubs are dioecious, with separate male and female plants. Both sexes produce flowers in elongated, slender clusters known as catkins. The male catkin buds appear fuzzy and silvery in late winter and early spring, looking somewhat like cat toes:
By mid-spring the catkins flower and are pollinated by both wind and insects:
Fertilized female catkins produce clusters of slender green fruit. Each capsule contains a number of small seeds:
Native to southern Canada and the northern United States, pussy willows have a preference for moist, poorly-drained soil. Although they can be found in fields and meadows, they are more commonly associated with streams, lakes, swamps, and wetlands. I found the individuals shown here in the marshes surrounding Losee Lake at Pinckney State Recreation Area near Chelsea, Michigan.