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Pussy willow is highly variable in its identifying characteristics. Typically it grows as a shrub or small tree to heights of up to 30 feet (8 m) [42]. Willows, in general, grow rapidly and produce extensive root systems [19]. Pussy willow trunks may be single or clustered with stout ascending branches and branchlets [16,42,80]. A large trunk circumference of 61.8 inches (157 cm) was reported for a North American pussy willow (Hightshoe cited in [81]). Bark is slightly fissured and ridged [80]. First-year pussy willow twigs are hairy but become glabrous with age [23,92]. Twigs are flexible and average 1.5 mm in diameter [80]. Large buds (up to 1 cm long) are present and conspicuous along the stems [36,84].

Pussy willow leaves are deciduous, simple, and alternate [16]. Leaf shape varies from oblong to elliptic, and blades are typically 2 to 5 times as long as they are wide [10,24,77]. Blade length varies from 1.2 to 5.1 inches (3-13 cm), and petioles measure 0.2 to 0.8 inch (5-20 mm) long [53,84]. Leaf margins are typically toothed, but the pattern is inconsistent [10,23,38]. Flowers occur in dense catkins. Catkin buds are covered in dense silky hairs and are the best known pussy willow feature [33]. Mature fruiting female catkins are typically 1 to 4.7 inches (2.5-12 cm) long, while mature fruiting male catkins measure 0.6 to 2 inches (1.5-5 cm) long [77]. Historic reports from an early beekeeper indicated that a single staminate pussy willow catkin contained 270 individual flowers and a pistillate catkin had 142 flowers [19]. Neither the age nor location of the catkin-providing shrub was reported. Pussy willow produces long-necked capsule fruits that measure 0.2 to 0.5 inch (5-13 mm) long [53,80]. Seeds are small (1.2-1.6 mm long and 0.5 mm in diameter) and have rings of short, stiff and long, silky hairs at the base [80].

Pussy willow is common throughout the southern half of Canada and the north-central and northeastern portions of the United States. The westernmost and southernmost distribution of pussy willow in the United States is not entirely clear [54]. There is general agreement that pussy willow occurs from Montana and Wyoming east through Illinois, Kentucky, and West Virginia [10,25,53,60,84]. However, Froiland [34] indicates that pussy willow occurs as far west as the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. Some researchers report pussy willow in Idaho [2,54], but these claims are not substantiated by floras from these areas. Some authors indicate that the southern US distribution includes Nebraska, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina [2,54]. The distribution of pussy willow varieties is not well described


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