Chilopsis linearis

Accession Count: 89
Common Name: desert willow
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Family Name: Bignoniaceae
Botanical Name: Chilopsis linearis
Sub Species:
Characteristics: Chilopsis linearis is a deciduous tree which grows 15 to 40 feet  in height with a leaning trunk, pendulous form, and a spreading open crown. The bark is very thin and dark brown (1). The first year twigs are green, but later mature to a gray reddish brown color. The pale green leaves are about five to eight inches long and less than a half inch wide. The leaves are linearly shaped, and exhibit alternate phyllotaxy. From late Spring into Fall, the desert willow produces large, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers. The margins of the flowers are white with pink to violet colored throats. The flowers are about one and a half inch long, and an inch wide, and occur in clusters up to four inches long at the end of twigs (1). The flowers then produce long brown cigar-like pods six to ten inches long. Each pod contains numerous flat tan seeds with winged hairs which carry the seeds in the wind (2). There are many cultivars of C. linearis on campus, which all have different physical characteristics.
Compound: Chi lin
Geographic Origin: Southwest United States, Mexico
Ecozone Origin: Nearctic
Biome Origin:
Natural History: C. linearis is native to the United States Southwest, and Northern Mexico up to 5000 ft in elevation. The genus name 'Chilopsis' is derived from a Greek phrase describing the lip-like flower. The species name refers to the tree's long narrow leaves. While this native of northern Mexico and the southeastern United States is not a member of the true willow family, it is commonly referred to as the desert or flowering willow. In Mexico, the tree is commonly referred to by its Spanish name mimbre which means 'willow-like' (2). This plant is listed as "salvage assessed" under Arizona Native Plant Law.
Cultivation Notes: The desert willow is an arid lands plant which grows best in areas with less than 30 inches of annual rainfall, and in well-drained limestone soils with minimal organic content (2). It has a high drought and salt tolerance, and can survive with minimal watering. Over-watering and excess fertilizing can lead to a weaker plant due to rapid growth. Soil should be allowed to dry between watering sessions. This tree is messy, and drops seed pods, flowers, and leaves. C. linearis is cold hardy to 0°F. This plant can be propagated by seeds, dormant cuttings, and semi-hardwood cuttings. The optimal time to gather seeds is in late summer when the pods have dried out and turned brown. The seeds are best sown if fresh, but they can be refrigerated over winter. Frequent pruning in the first couple of years is encouraged to train the tree into a single trunk growth habit (1). Many suckers sprout from the desert willow's roots which should be trimmed.
Ethnobotany: Indigenous people use the wood of C. linearis to make bows, baskets, fence posts, and house frames. The bark is used to make fabric and nets. In Mexico, a tea used to sooth coughs is made from the dried flowers and seed pods (2). This species is mainly used as a landscape ornamental, due to its highly decorative flowers which it produces for several weeks. This tree can be planted in courtyards, as a patio tree, around lawns, and next to roadways. Hummingbirds and native bees value it for the sucrose rich nectar found in the flowers (1). Local wildlife eat desert willow seeds, and use the tree for cover.

Height: 20 - 50 feet
Width: 20 - 50 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Lavender
Function: Habitat
Spread: Spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Hardy
Water Use: Moderate Water Use

4. Mielke, Judy. Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes. University of Texas Press, 1993.


Chilopsis linearis