Pussy Willows

At last they have arrived. Photographers elsewhere have been posting pics of these harbingers of spring for weeks. But they live in warmer climes. Here, snow still lingers in the woods and water-filled ditches have been freezing at night until just recently.

Male flowers appear first.


As they unfold, stalk-like stamens appear which produce pollen. Unlike other catkin-producing plants, such as aspens, the pollen isn’t spread by wind. Instead both male and female flowers produce a strongly-scented nectar that attracts insects.

Willow catkin

Willows provide bees, butterflies and flies with a welcome source of food — pollen and nectar — in early spring before other flowering plants have appeared.

Backlit willow catkin

Willow   Salix spp.

Here & Now

A couple of weeks ago it was spring on the desert. Now it’s come to The Great White North and that means snow. Lots of snow.

For more than a week the temperatures have dithered around freezing. Whether that’s 32F or 0C for you, it’s hat-scarf-mitts-coat-and-boots weather for awhile longer.

So far today more than 10 cm have drifted down — that’s 4 inches and then some. The forecast is for more of the same for several days but that will change. Meanwhile I shall enjoy the soft fall of flakes and the muffled world outside my door.

Mountain ash   Sorbus spp.
White spruce   Picea glauca
Balsam poplar   Populus balsamifera



Desert Ow-l

Hoo-hoo might this be?

I caught only a glimpse of the “eyes” as I passed but it stopped me mid-step. Then I realized they were scars where two cholla (CHOY-uh) “buds” — actually stem joints — had fallen off.

Chainfruit cholla — so named for the clusters of fruit that hang down — is common on the Sonoran Desert. It’s also known as jumping cholla. For good reason.

The stem buds are so loosely attached they come loose at the slightest touch and you quickly find yourself wearing them. Not good. Best way to remove them is to place a comb between you and the hitchhikers and quickly flip it away.

Alert: If the spines are in your skin this is gonna feel like tooth extraction without freezing. Been there. Done that. Only once.


P.S. Tired of hiking with the same folks? Just aim the cholla buds in their direction. That should solve the problem.

Chainfruit cholla   Cylindropuntia fulgida