I always treated the catkins of willows as little creatures with spirits. Definitely the first plant I ever related to, regarded, even it its dead phase in vases in my house. My mother loves them and bittersweet and I remember them swapping out with the seasonal decor.
The catkins (little tufts of fur like flowers) also remind me of fluffy snow, such as the weather today as I write. This light large flaked snow creates little clumps on all the bare winter trees and creates the light/dark contrast of willows in spring.
Salix discolor, the species of willow most commonly referred to as pussy willow in the Northeast, is a small shrubby willow found near wetlands and wet woods across North America. Birch and Beech trees also produce catkins and they're the first signs of spring though often missed as they're not super showy in their appearances. The "male" plants are the ones with the characteristic fuzzy catkins while the "female"" plant creates funky caterpillar looking catkins with greens and other colored spines.
I do love this little video ::sound on:: advertising black catkins!
If you find them in the wild, it's easy to propagate them but snipping a branch in springtime, placing them in water in your home till they root and then placing them in the ground outdoors. They love wet soil so be sure to add extra water if the soil near your home is dry and definitely make sure your have plenty of space for them to grow as they do get quite large.
Native Americans use these beautiful plants in a variety of ways and depending on which region and which tribe in each region you look to, they have similar uses but unique spirits and stories. If living in North America, I urge you to look into your regional peoples and understand their relationships with these plants as well as how you may be able to support their traditional crafts. In general there is utilitarian weaving with boughs or roots depending on region and construction type such as the difference between baskets, fencing and dwellings.
As willow is found world wide in the Northern hemisphere there is a general reverence from all Native peoples. Across cultures willows represent longevity/long life, protection, healing wisdom and are often connected to the moon and it's feminine energy. The feminine energy I personally find interesting as it's the "male" plant that often receives this energy to. I regard them as a non-binary symbol and personally categorize them in my energy work with plants that produce both reproductive parts.
Willow is used as a dye, as pain relief, and as spiritual protection. The branches you cut in spring and let dry out will stay in suspended fluffiness for many years and just a few short sprigs make a wonderful addition to any altar. Keeping in theme with alternating complimentary forces of light/dark, masculine/feminine, they can also be a symbol of earth and spirit if working with specific element energy.