Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis: Small tree with showy flowers

Description: Chilopsis linearis grows to 15-30 ft tall with a multi-trunked, branching growth habit. Its leaves are deciduous, 4-5 inch long and half an inch wide, light to medium green, resembling those of willow trees, giving Desert Willow its name. However, Desert Willow is not a true willow. It is more closely related to Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) and Yellowbells (Tecoma stans) and is a member of the catalpa family, Bignoniaceae. Desert Willow is native to south central Texas and points south and west, where it is found in desert washes. Desert Willow has become a popular tree for landscapes and many cultivars are available in the nursery trade with variations in flower color and leaf size.

Flowers and Seeds: Desert Willow flowers from April through September with the heaviest blooms in May and June. The catalpa-like flowers vary in color from white to pink to dark rose to purple with yellow streaks in each flower’s throat. Many cultivars have two-toned flowers. The flowers are 1-1.5 inches long, funnel-shaped and feature ruffles at the end. By the fall, the flowers give rise to 6-10 inch long seedpods, which remain on the tree until after the leaves drop in the late autumn.

Planting sites: Full or partial sun is best for Desert Willow. It grows well in a variety of soils, but it must have good drainage or it may rot.

Watering Instructions: Desert Willow may be watered when first planted. Once established, it is extremely drought-tolerant. Excessive watering and/or fertilizer can lead to too-rapid growth resulting in a weaker tree and fewer blooms.

Comments: Desert Willow is a fast-growing, drought tolerant tree with gorgeous blooms. Because it is small, several can be planted together to form a deciduous, flowering hedge or it may be grown as a single accent tree. Desert Willow attracts hummingbirds. Companion plants include Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis), Prairie Verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), Mexican Feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and various milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). In the city of Denton, Desert Willow can be found as a street tree in the recently re-done Hickory Street between the Square and Bell Avenue – check it out! Consider planting Desert Willow instead of the exotic and over-used Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.) and exotic Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

Written by Dr. Becca Dickstein

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