Desert willow trees (Chilopsis linearis) are native to Texas and thrive in hot, dry conditions. The large flowers resemble orchids and bloom in shades of pink, lavender and white. The willow-like foliage is deciduous and the tree may appear dead when dormant. The desert willow is a member of the Bignoniaceae family, which also includes catalpas and trumpet vines.
The desert willow grows 15 to 20 feet tall and wide, and can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or pruned as a tree. It has a spreading, rounded form that droops as the tree matures. The long narrow foliage has a fine texture. The showy fragrant flowers bloom from April until September, and are followed by long, thin seedpods.
Desert willows need little water and require good drainage. They tolerate clay, sandy or alkaline soil, as well as heat and drought. They are hardy in Zones 7 to 11, and no major pests or diseases affect desert willows.
Desert willows can be used as specimen plants or in a group for color and interest. A line of desert willows can serve as a windbreak or screen. They are suited to areas in parking lots and along highway medians.
Bees and hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers of desert willows. Deer, birds and other wildlife eat the foliage and seeds. The trees also provide nesting sites and protective cover for wildlife.
The flower, leaves and bark of Desert Willows are used to make soothing teas or poultices, according to “Desert Willow Indigenous Imposter” by Cathy Rymer. The tea contains natural oxidants that regulate glucose metabolism and is used to sooth coughs. The poultices are used as an alternative method to treat athlete’s foot, yeast infection and scrapes. Consult a licensed medical practitioner before using this or any other herbal remedy.
Native Americans used the strong flexible wood of desert willows to build houses and thatch roofs. They used the branches to make hunting bow and the slender limbs to weave baskets. The fibrous bark was used to make nets and fabric.
Desert willow is also called bow willow, false willow, flowering willow, desert catalpa, willowleaf catalpa, flor de mimbre and jano.