Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis
The common name for Chilopsis linearis, desert willow, might first appear to be an oxymoron, as we often associate willows with water. However, Chilopsis is only “willow” in name and appearance. True willows are in the genus Salix. Chilopsis, on the other hand, is a monotypic genus – a genus that contains only one species. In this case, that species is Chilopsis linearis.
A member of the Bignoniaceae family, desert willow is more closely related to catalpa than willow. This is especially evident when it begins to bloom in the summer, unfurling gorgeous dark and light pink, ruffled flowers. The latin word, chilopsis, is actually derived from the Greek word for lip, referencing the lusciousness of the blooms. After the blooms are finished, expect to see long bean-like seed pods form in the fall. These seeds can be collected for propagation, or for faster results cuttings can be taken.
Covered in narrow, willow-like leaves, Chilopsis falls into the awkward category of large shrub or small tree depending on how you prune it. Desert willow is native to the southwestern United States, making it well adapted to our desert climate here in Idaho. In addition to needing very little water, Chilopsis is also a smart choice for a fire-resistant landscape. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being decreased flammability and 1 being increased flammability, desert willow scores a solid 7. This makes it a good option for Zone 2 of a home landscape—or the area between 30-60 feet away from your house. In the BLM Firewise Garden located next door to the Idaho Botanical Garden you can view two different cultivars of desert willow—‘Art’s Seedless’ and ‘Monhews’. Neither of these cultivars set seed, which eliminates the need to be ever vigilant about pesky seed pods or seedlings popping up.
The straight species of Chilopsis linearis can be seen growing by the entrance to the Children’s Garden and near the Greenhouses at the Idaho Botanical Garden.
Written by IBG gardener, Anna Lindquist