Snow on the cycle track – in May?!

Cycle track Stroud-Dudbridge - pussy willow fluff covering ground May 2018 C Aistrop

The stretch of cycle track from Dudbridge heading towards Stroud is looking glorious at the moment, its carpet of wild garlic resembling a layer of royal icing spreading out left and right from the track. However, whilst walking along the Dudbridge end, I noticed a unusual sight as if a strange kind of snow had fallen amongst the white pom-poms of the garlic. Had Stroud-based special effects company, Snow Business, been testing their latest type of snow ready to coat the film set of a new Hollywood blockbuster?

Not unless they’ve added a fluffy version to their repertoire! A closer inspection revealed white fluff looking more like the Kapok stuffing I used in my teens to stuff my homemade soft toys. It’s covering quite a large area of ground right now and a couple of minutes of my best Sherlock Holme’s impersonation traced the clues back to the catkins lying all over the track.

The catkins have come from a willow tree growing just to the side of the cycle track and this fluff suggests it’s a pussy willow, a tree well-known for producing vast quantities of fluffy seeds. I’ve walked this part of the cycle track for the past few years and never noticed this happen before. The fluffy bits are produced by the female flowers and at the end of each piece of fluff is a seed. The fluff ensures the seeds are easily carried on the wind to help the seeds spread far and wide.

Though willow trees are normally associated with watery places, some, like the pussy willow, can grow in woodland habitats where there’s damp ground even if it’s not waterlogged. Pussy willows are important for insects as they produce so much nectar and pollen that they’re like 5-star restaurants and in some areas, it’s estimated that 10% of beneficial insects feed solely on the nectar and pollen of this tree. In China, the tree is a symbol of prosperity and in New Year is taken indoors and decorated with gold and red ornaments, colours that represent wealth and happiness. In many European countries, branches of pussy willow are carried during Easter celebrations instead of the palm tree. In Greater Iran, its flowers are distilled and used in traditional medicine.

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