Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), also known as false willow, flowering willow and desert catalpa, falls into the trumpet vine family, since it's not a true willow at all. Grown as a large shrub or small tree reaching up to 25 feet in height in Hardiness Zones 7 to 11, native desert willow produces beautiful scented, tubular flowers that bloom in May through October.
As a native plant, desert willow grows naturally along streambeds, creeks and washes in desert canyons and mountain foothills. The tree provides protection against flooding and erosion in these areas. The tree also works well for erosion control when planted along roads with unstable slopes or ditches.
Desert willow's lightly scented pink flowers make it a good choice for adding color and fragrance to landscapes or gardens. The tree also provides shade in the summer and allows sunshine to come through in the winter when the deciduous tree loses its leaves. The plant's delicate, willow-like foliage works well in the background with other types of smaller plants and bushes planted in front. In the winter when the tree's leaves fall off, the twisting branches provide visual interest. Prune desert willow to keep it small for use as a bush or let it grow into a small tree. Thanks to its drought-resistant tendencies, desert willow requires little watering.
The long, tubular flowers of desert willow provide nectar for hummingbirds that rely on the plant as an important food source. Bees use nectar from the tree to make honey. Birds nest in the branches of desert willow and use the tree for cover year-round. In the fall and winter when the tree's long papery pods release their seeds, birds flock to the tree to eat the white-fringed seeds. Small mammals also use the tree for temporary shelter.
Native Americans and early settlers used the flowers, leaves and bark of the desert willow tree to make hot poultices. They also made tea to soothe coughs. According to the New Mexico State University, other uses include an application to prevent yeast infection and athlete's foot. Desert willow also acted as a first aid treatment for scrapes and scratches. A tea made from the flowers contains a natural anti-oxidant that promotes cardiovascular health and regulates glucose metabolism. The tree provided material for Native Americans to create hunting bows. The Pima Indians relied on the wood to build their homes and thatch roofs as well as baskets to store foods and grains. Bark from the desert willow got used to make nets and fabrics.