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Chilopsis linearis (Cav.) Sweet
Desert Willow, Flowering Willow, Willow-leaved Catalpa, Willowleaf Catalpa, Bow Willow, Flor De Mimbre, Mimbre
Bignoniaceae (Trumpet-Creeper Family)
USDA Symbol: CHLI2
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
Desert-willow is a 15-40 ft., slender-twigged, small tree or large shrub, often with leaning, twisting trunk and open, spreading crown. Leaves are deciduous, willow-like, light green, both opposite and alternate, 4-12 inches long and 1/3 inch wide. The blossom is funnel-shaped, 1-1 1/2 inches long, spreading at the opening into 5 ruffled, petal-like lobes. The flower is dark pink or purple, often with white or yellow and purple streaks within the throat. The catalpa-like flowers are borne in terminal racemes. By early autumn, the violet-scented flowers, which appear after summer rains, are replaced by slender seedpods, 6-10 inches long, which remain dangling from the branches and serve to identify the tree after the flowers are gone.
Named for its resemblance to willows, this popular ornamental tree is actually related to catalpa trees, Yellowbells (Tecoma stans), and Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). Its exotic-looking blooms, rapid growth, drought tolerance, and ease of maintenance have made it a sought-after plant within its range, which in nature is from south-central Texas south to Nuevo Leon and Zacatecas in Mexico and west all the way to southern California and Baja California. Adapted to desert washes, it does best with just enough water to keep it blooming and healthily green through the warm months. Many cultivars have been selected, with varying flower colors, leaf sizes, and amounts of seed pods.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate , Opposite
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Lanceolate , Linear
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Entire
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 40 feet tall.
Flower: Flowers 1-1.5 inch, in 2-4 inch panicles.
Fruit: Green to brown, 4-12 inches.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Pink , Purple , Violet
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct
Bloom Notes: Mostly blooms heaviest May to June but will continue to bloom sporadically throughout the warm season after rains. Flower color ranges from solid white or muted pink to darker rose and purple, as well as two-toned combinations of those colors. Throat often yellow-tinged. Many cultivars available with varying flower colors.
DistributionUSA: AZ , CA , NM , TX
Native Distribution: South-central Texas south to Nuevo Leon and Zacatecas, west to southern California and Baja California
Native Habitat: Ditches, ravines, depressions, streams, river banks, arroyos, swales, and washes in desert areas
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.
Conditions Comments: Allow to dry out between waterings, as this will encourage more extensive waves of blooms. Avoid excessive water and fertilizer, as that can lead to overly rapid growth, fewer blooms, and a weaker plant. Prolonged saturation can result in rot. Won't grow as fast or get as large in clay soil but won't suffer there either. Can be drought-deciduous in some regions. Can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F.
BenefitUse Ornamental: A showy, fast-growing, drought-tolerant ornamental tree with very decorative blooms
Use Wildlife: Nectar-hummingbirds, Nectar-insects, Seeds-granivorous birds
Use Medicinal: Floral decoctions taken for coughs and bronchial problems in Mexico
Use Other: Erosion control. Bows and basketry made from its wood by indigenous people. A good honey plant.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Larval Host: White-winged moth
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate
Value to Beneficial InsectsProvides Nesting Materials/Structure for Native Bees
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
PropagationPropagation Material: Seeds , Semi-hardwood Cuttings
Description: Propagate by fresh seed, dormant cuttings, or semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer.
Seed Collection: Gather seeds from late summer through autumn when the pods have dried and turned brown but before they split open to release feathery seeds. Seeds may be stored dry in the refrigerator over winter (other references suggest storage in wet sand) but germinate best if sown fresh.
Seed Treatment: No treatment is necessary.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Prune frequently during its first few years to encourage minimal or single trunks. Water occasionally during prolonged drought. Remove spent flowers and seed pods to encourage continued blooming. To encourage branching and blooming, cut back during winter dormancy by a third.
Find Seed or Plants
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
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National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Naval Air Station Kingsville - Kingsville, TX
Texas Discovery Gardens - Dallas, TX
Sibley Nature Center - Midland, TX
Patsy Glenn Refuge - Wimberley, TX
NPSOT - Native Plant Society of Texas - Fredericksburg, TX
Nueces River Authority - Uvalde, TX
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
NPSOT - Fredericksburg Chapter - Fredericksburg, TX
NPSOT - Austin Chapter - Austin, TX
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX
BibliographyBibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 481 - How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest: Revised and Updated Edition (2001) Nokes, J.
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 995 - Native Landscaping from El Paso to L.A. (2000) Wasowski, S. and A. Wasowski
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 297 - Trees of Central Texas (1984) Vines, Robert A.
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 37 - Calscape (2019) California Native Plant Society
From the ArchiveWildflower Newsletter 1987 VOL. 4, NO.3 - Fall Planting Highlights the Season, Jubilee Celebration Commences December 1987...
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Chilopsis linearis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Chilopsis linearis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Chilopsis linearis
MetadataRecord Modified: 2022-10-03
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG