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Flower power helps willow and hazel
THROUGH March and April many trees and shrubs are not yet in full leaf and branches maintain their bare winter look. Notable exceptions are willows and hazel whose branches are full of spring life, but that is due to catkins, not leaves.
A catkin is a type of flower, but one that only occurs in species that have separate flowers for male and female. Usually catkins are flowers without petals and are made up of stamens or stigma, depending whether they are male or female, and a nectar source, arranged on the catkin structure. Catkins are called catkins, or so the story goes, as a result of the Dutch word ketteken, which translates as kitten in English. The suggestion being that catkins resemble kittens’ tails. If that is the case it begs the question why they are not named after the Dutch for a kitten’s tail.
In hazel the catkin is the male flower, and they appear early in the year, usually in February. Both male and female flowers occur together on hazel, but the catkin is far more noticeable along the hedge lines or in the woodlands as there is no other greenery to be seen.
Willows are dioecious, which means that there are two distinct sexes so trees are either male or female. Both male and female flowers take the form of catkins, but the male versions are usually more noticeable being larger and having a fluffy look. At this time of year catkins are an important nectar source for insects, and if you look up into the braches of a willow you will see it teeming with life.