Catkin – Have You Seen One In Rocky Mountains?


A Cottonwood catkin.  Photo via Flickr.

Have you ever come across a catkin while exploring the Rocky Mountains?  I bet you have, but you didn’t know what it was.

Plants, trees, and flowers have many different terms to describe them.  This old post talks about some common plant and tree terms that will help you become familiar with what words are used.  One term on that list is a catkin.  Catkins are an important parts of many trees.  I’m sure you will impress your friends if on your next hike you can point out and explain what catkins are.

What Is A Catkin?

Technically, a catkin is a dense, tightly packed cluster of flowers.  They tend to look like a small stalk that hangs downwards.

Why Do Trees Have Catkins?  Reproduction…

Catkins play a crucial role in the reproduction of many trees.  If you recall, flowers are the reproductive parts of trees.

All flowers need to be pollinated in order to reproduce, but flowers can be pollinated in different ways.  Many flowers are bright and showy in order to attract pollinators, such as bees.

However, catkins are not at all showy because they are not trying to attract pollinators.  Instead, catkins get pollinated by wind.  The wind blows the anther from the pollen from one flower to another flower.

This means – trees that have catkins are usually pollinated by the wind, not by animals.

When Do Trees Usually Grow Catkins?

Generally, trees will grow their catkins in the spring.  They do this because they want to have their catkins before the tree is full of leaves.  Remember, catkins need wind to be pollinated.  Thus, a tree that is full of leaves will block the wind from the catkins, preventing the pollen from being blown by the wind.

What Trees In The Rocky Mountains Have Catkins?


A willow catkin. Photo via Flickr.



Paper birch catkin. Photo via Flickr.

Paper Birch


A male oak catkin. Photo via Flickr.