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Friday - February 29, 2008

Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of plant purchased as desert willow
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Purchased a plant at Chappel Hill, Texas and was told it was a desert willow. The bloom cluster and pink color are very similar, but leaves resemble the wisteria. Very pretty. What is it? Can it be rooted in water?


Did you purchase the plant recently, or have you had it for at least a season? The reason we ask is that if you just bought it and it had leaves on it, it would not be a desert willow, which is deciduous. None of the desert willows around Austin have started putting on leaves yet. So let's examine the two possibilities and see if we can help you.

Chilopsis linearis (desert willow) is a deciduous small tree, used a lot for erosion control, as its roots can hold earth even on a slope. It therefore stands to reason that it needs good drainage wherever it's planted. In spite of the name, it is not related to willows, but belongs to the Begnoniaceae or trumpet creeper family and can be propagated either by cuttings or seed. The desert willow blooms are purple to pink, blooming from April to September, and look a little like catalpa blooms. It is native to West Texas, New Mexico and Mexico, so it has low water needs, and requires quite a bit of sun.

According to this Ohio State University Extension website, the two species of wisteria typically grown in home gardens are Wisteria sinensis or Chinese wisteria and Wisteria floribunda, or Japanese wisteria. Neither of these are natives of North America and therefore don't fall into the expertise of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Wisteria is an aggressive, climbing plant, going up poles, fences, even buildings with stems that wrap around for support. It is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family. Plants propagated by seed may need to mature 10 to 15 years before they begin to bloom. If you will look at these images of wisteria and then examine the pictures of desert willow below, you will see that the leaves, growth habit and blooms are very dissimilar. If you purchased the plant in a nursery, and it was tagged as a desert willow, and turns out to be something else, you should probably contact the nursery.

If you still haven't identified your plant, could you perhaps send us a picture? There are instructions for sending us pictures in the lower right hand corner of the Mr. Smarty Plants page. And, finally, you asked about reproducing the plant you have. Since whatever plant you have is apparently a woody plant, this North Carolina State University website has an excellent article on propagation of woody plants by cuttings.

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis




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