En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

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

More General Botany Questions

Help with Science Fair project from Danbury CT
January 12, 2012 - Hello Mr Smarty, I was going to do my science project on weevils and their impact on milfoil. The weevils are in hibernation until spring and my project is due in mid-Feb. Any suggestions on a simil...
view the full question and answer

Can plants in the same genus cross-pollinate?
March 27, 2009 - Can you cross-pollinate plants from the same genus?
view the full question and answer

Pure white primroses (Oenothera speciosa)
May 13, 2008 - Hello MS. Smarty Plants! I have wildflowers instead of grass in my backyard (mow once a year and it's spectacularly beautiful) and I noticed some pure white primroses (the rest are all pink or wi...
view the full question and answer

Genetics reason for color variation in Indian paintbrush
April 03, 2005 - Are the color variations in Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) a matter of genetic mutation or minerals in the soil? I say it's genetic and the rest of the family says it's environmental.
view the full question and answer

Brownish-gold worm-looking things on loblolly pines
May 08, 2015 - We have a large loblolly pine that each spring drops thousands of brownish-gold "worm" looking things (about 1/2 to 1" long). Do they have a name and what is their purpose?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center