Arid Zone Trees

Dedicated to providing quality trees to the Landscape Industry that are appropriate to the Desert Southwest

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Disclaimer: The information provided here was gathered from research literature published by the University of Arizona, other professional Landscape and  Horticultural organizations and our experience at Arid Zone Trees. Always consult local landscape experts for recommendation for your specific area.


Desert Willow

At first glance the name Desert Willow seems like a contradiction in terms. Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is not a true willow. Many people have attributed the name to the long (2" to 5"), slender, glossy green leaves that typically grow towards the ground. The leaf canopy has a weeping, willow-like appearance. Much of the literature refers to Chilopsis as a large shrub to small tree growing to 15' to 30' tall with spreads of 10' to 15'. The references to Chilopsis being a large shrub may relate to the tree growing in dry native desert conditions with very limited or sporadically available water. In landscape settings, where trees are regularly watered and fertilized, Chilopsis grow to the stature of most other desert trees.

When incorporating Desert Willows into landscape designs architects should consider them medium sized mature trees that will occupy considerable space in the landscape. Chilopsis is an excellent accent tree when used in desert designs. Trees produce filtered shade that does not inhibit flowering of understory plantings. Young trees require regular pruning to develop and encourage graceful single or multi-trunked specimens. Without pruning, trees can look shaggy with thick leaf canopies and branches extending to the ground. Trunks are a slightly roughened gray- white and contrast nicely with the bright foliage and flowers.

Desert Willows are found in all the deserts of the southwest US and northern Mexico. Trees are found from 1500' to 5000' elevations, usually along streams or basins where rainfall collects. Trees are drought and winter deciduous, generally drop leaves in late November, and hardy to 10 degrees F. Established trees can survive on natural rainfall but irrigated trees grow more rapidly and produce more flowers and foliage providing greater shade. In summer months, young trees can be irrigated every other week. For optimal growth and flowering, mature trees should be deep watered every 3 to 4 weeks. In the landscape, Desert Willows grow best in well drained soils and full sun exposures.

Chilopsis is one of the few desert tree species that produces flowers throughout the summer months. Trees produce beautiful, slightly fragrant, orchid-shaped flowers from early spring to fall. Chilopsis flowers also attract and provide nectar for hummingbirds. For many years growers and Universities have been selecting and breeding Chilopsis varieties for larger, brighter colored flowers. Depending on the variety, flower color varies from off-white to dark lavender. Flowers mature to produce 6" to 8" tan pods that spilt open to release seeds. Pods often do not drop from the tree and can be unsightly, particularly when trees are dormant. Pods can be pruned off during winter months.

Seed pods and cast flowers can be a litter problem in some settings. Desert Willows are well adapted to both lawn and traditional desert landscape settings. They are used as summer color accent trees, individual specimens, as screen plantings (usually left unpruned) or in groupings. Chilopsis bring summer color, cold hardiness and a unique lush look to arid landscape designs.