Wild Pussy Willow – A Ticking Time Bomb

by admin on August 21, 2011

Pussy Willow in winter

The Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority is asking the public to assist in reporting and locating populations of wild pussy willow Salix cinerea, also known as seeding willow.

This environmental weed is declared under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999, and is a Weed of National Significance (WoNS). Under the Act, pussy willow is an eradication target and by law, all plants must be controlled.

Unlike the very common crack willow, Salix fragilis, which are all male and spread via broken branches, pussy willow has both male and female plants and reproduces by seed. Pussy willow is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic, social and environmental impacts.

Female catkins

Male catkins

In the past, pussy willows were planted in gardens as ornamental trees. These plants have now naturalised and infested a number of areas.

In Southern Tasmania, isolated infestations are known to occur in the North West Bay catchment (including Neika, Leslie Vale, Allens Rivulet, Kingston and Longley areas), south Franklin (Jacksons Road) and around Lunawanna on Bruny Island. There are also infestations at Queenstown, Circular Head and Penguin in the northwest of the state.

Pussy willows are like a ticking time bomb. Their spread can initially be slow, but when the right conditions occur, a catastrophic explosion in numbers can occur.

This shrub or small tree has proven to be the most invasive of all willows currently in Australia and is extremely adaptable, capable of invading just about any boggy and intermittently moist site, anywhere from sea level to above the alpine tree line. Sites most likely to be invaded are areas where bare, wet ground exists for a month following seed shed (around October/November).

Flowering occurs briefly in late August to early September. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants; the males having grey, furry buds, releasing bright yellow, pollen-filled stamens. The female flowers have pale-green, cone-shaped buds, releasing lime-green stigmas.

Reproduction is mainly by seed that ripens 3-4 weeks following flowering. Seed crops may be massive and dispersal is by wind or water, over tens of kilometres, colonising areas where willows have never grown before. Seed viability is extremely brief (possibly between two to four weeks) and seeds need to lodge on suitable bare and wet soils for germination to occur.

If allowed to spread this weed will be highly detrimental to Tasmania’s economy and environment by choking waterways and spreading into other catchments. As there are a number of ornamental willows, identification can be difficult when the plant is not flowering. Now is the time to check your willows.

The Southern Tasmanian Council’s Authority has received Australian Government Caring for our Country funding for the next two years to detect new populations and support landholders to control their infestation. If you know of any pussy willow individuals or populations, please contact the Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority to arrange free identification, survey and primary control.

Your cooperation in the eradication of Wild Pussy willow from Southern Tasmania is appreciated.
Contact Axel Meiss, Click to email Alex 0437 582 404 or
Sandy Leighton, Click to email Sandy 0437 450 143.

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