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Sunday - December 22, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany, Trees
Title: Are leaf margins of Chilopsis linearis toothed from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Are the leaf margins of Chilopsis linearis, Desert Willow, smooth or toothed? The NPIN descrip says willow-like. Most willows have toothed leaf margins. Thank you.


Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) belongs to the Acanthaceae (Acanthus) family and is therefore not even closely related to the plants commonly referred to as willow, which are members of the Salicaceae (Willow) family.

If you follow this plant link, Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow), to our webpage on this plant, scroll down to "Plant Characteristics" you will find this leaf description:

"Leaf Shape: Lanceolate , Linear
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Entire"

Although Mr. Smarty Plants has studied plant descriptions in classes at the Wildflower Center, they are still confusing to this member of the Smarty Plants Team. So, we went to this Garden Web Glossary of Botanical Terms and found these definitions of those terms:

Shaped like a lance-head, several times longer than wide, broadest above the base and narrowed to the apex."
Long and narrow with parallel margins."
Consisting of several leaflets arranged on each side of a common petiole or rachis on a compound leaf or frond. 2. The feather vein pattern of simple leaves."

Smooth; not rough, pubescent, or hairy."

Without toothing or division."

It would appear that the last term answers your question; no teeth. Describing something as "willow-like" often refers to something long, tall and thin. If you ever read those old paperback detective books, there nearly always seemed to be a "long, tall, willowy blond." Teeth in mouth, but not on edges.

Since the Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) is deciduous, and this is December, we could not go out in the garden and personally examine any leaves of the Desert Willow. Most willows are non-native to North America, and thus do not appear in our Native Plant Database. However, we did find a native, Justicia americana (American water-willow), that had this leaf description:

"Leaf Shape: Linear
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Entire"

Sound familiar?

You should note that the the traditional willow belongs to the genus Salix  (willow). The Desert Willow is in the Chilopsis genus. There are 55 members of the genus Salix in our Native American Database. but a quick look did not produce any leaf descriptions on those. However, when we searched on "salix" in Wikipedia, we found this description: "The leaves are typically elongated, but may also be round to oval, frequently with serrated margins." Serrated could probably mean it has a toothy edge, but we should not expect the same from a totally different plant that just happens to share a common name.

From the Image Gallery

American water-willow
Justicia americana

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

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