Shiny, brown buds began to open on a neighbor’s quaking aspen trees today! Each open bud held what looked like a tiny, soft, gray cat’s paw, similar to a pussy willow bud. Aspens are members of the willow family, so it’s no coincidence that they bear soft, fuzzy catkins. The buds will develop into long catkins, which are the aspen’s flowers. They are wind-pollinated and the male catkins will release large amounts of yellow pollen into the air later in the spring. (According to pollen.com, poplars and junipers already are releasing low levels of pollen in the Twin Cities.) The seeds will develop and be dispersed with tufts of soft, white “cotton” before the leaves open.