The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Chilopsis linearis
Desert willow

FAMILY:  Bignoniaceae — Bignonia family

ETYMOLOGY:  The genus Chilopsis derives its name from the Greek cheilos, meaning 'lip', and -opsis, or 'resemblance'. Flowers of the desert willow have the characteristic trumpet shape of the Bignonia family and do resemble parted lips.

The species epithet linearis is from the Latin lineare, or 'linear', a reference to the long, narrow shape of the leaves.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico

HABITAT:  Dry washes and streamsides, below 5,000'

BLOOMING SEASON:  May to October

DESCRIPTION:  Multi-branched, winter deciduous tree growing to 25'. The bark is smooth and brown when young, becoming dark brown to black with age with deep fissures. The wood is very hard and is often used to make fence posts.

Willow-like leaves are long and narrow, 4–7" long with smooth margins. Leaves are covered with a waxy cuticle.

Fragrant tubular flowers with frilled edges resemble orchid flowers. The 1–2.5" long flowers grow in clusters at the ends of stems. Colors range from pink to lavender and white. The flower is divided into five unequal lobes with the larger center lobe of the lower lobes having dark linear lines and yellow ridges that serve as pollen guides for bees. Both the flower and its calyx are covered in fine hairs.

Tan seed pods, 7–12" long, persist on the tree even after releasing the seeds. In winter, desert willow is leafless but still decorated with long, dried seed pods. Seeds are tan with clusters of long white filaments at each end.

NOTES:  Desert willow is not in the true willow family, the genus Salix.

Desert Adaptatons: The tree is drought deciduous, losing its leaves during dry periods to conserve water. Additionally, leaves are covered in a waxy coating to reduce water loss.