I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

catkin: a spike-like, usually – though not always – pendulous inflorescence of unisexual, apetalous flowers.

If, like me, you are waiting for spring to really come, you’re probably waiting for the flowers to appear. Especially the big showy tree flowers, like magnolia or apple blossoms. But right now where I live, the most common flowering trees to be found are the aspens (in the picture) and the birches. We’ll take what we can get, I guess.

Each catkin is either a group of only male or only female flowers. Some types of trees have both male and female catkins on the same plant (monoecious = one house), others have only one or the other (dioecious = two houses) on a particular plant. Catkins, as you can imagine from their homely, non-descript appearance, are generally pollinated by the wind. And, if you happen to suffer from early spring allergies and are wondering which tree to blame, look for the ones with the catkins and you might find your culprit.

Other trees that have catkins include: willows, hazel, alders, hickory, and mulberry.

Are there trees flowering where you live? Which ones?