Where can I buy a desert willow tree?

Plant Profile: Desert Willow

Botanical name: Chilopsis linearis

Family: Bignoniaceae

Range: Dry washes between 1,500 and 5,000 feet throughout the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico

Desert willow is not a true willow but with its long, slender weeping leaves it’s a better substitute than the willow for the arid southwest region. A fast growing tree, it can grow 2-3 feet a year and reach heights of 30 feet. By nature it’s a multi-trunked tree but can be pruned into a single trunk specimen or grown as a small shrub. Because it lacks thorns and the roots are not invasive, it can be planted close to walls and paving without causing structural problems.

The flowers are fragrant, orchid-like and hang in clusters of five or more and range from white to pink to purple. Blooming from April to late summer the flowers are frequently visited by hummingbirds and butterflies. Desert willow is deciduous and the 8 inch seed pods will hang on the tree through the winter sometimes giving it a “shaggy appearance.” The pods may be trimmed off, but consider leaving them on to provide food for birds. Inspection of a pod will reveal slender seeds with “hairs” on it. Hummingbirds use this to build nests with.

Desert willow prefers full sun but can take partial shade. Tolerant of drought, heat, wind, and cold, once it becomes established it can survive on rainfall alone. A deep watering once a month during the hot season will keep it more attractive looking. Discontinue irrigation in early fall as new growth can be damaged by frost. Thinning and shaping is best done in early summer. Seeds need no pretreatment for germination and desert willow are very easy to grow from seed. Because it has a very long tap root, I find it easier to start them in one gallon buckets. Plants will bloom the first year.

A related species, Chitalpa, Chitalpa X tashkentensis, is a hybrid of the desert willow and catalpa. Taking the best of both worlds, it matures at a height of 25 feet with a rounded canopy of stout branches. The leaves are dark green, an inch wide and three inches long which produces denser shade than the desert willow. The flowers are larger, bloom profusely, and are sterile so does not produce seed pods and gives it a cleaner appearance in winter. Tap rooted like it parents, it can also be planted near structures and shares the same tolerances of harsh desert conditions.

Chilopsis linearis – grow a grove of them!

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Thursday – July 07, 2016

From: Hemet, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Spacing for a Desert Willow Tree in California
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


How close to a house can I plant a desert willow tree?


Sorry for the delay in answering your question.

Chilopsis linearis (desert willow)

Desert-willow is a 15-40 ft., slender-twigged, small tree or large shrub, often with leaning, twisting trunk and open, spreading crown. Leaves are deciduous, willow-like, light green, both opposite and alternate, 4–12 inches long and 1/3 inch wide. The blossom is funnel-shaped, 1–1 1/2 inches long, spreading at the opening into 5 ruffled, petal-like lobes. The flower is dark pink or purple, often with white or yellow and purple streaks within the throat. The catalpa-like flowers are borne in terminal racemes. By early autumn, the violet-scented flowers, which appear after summer rains, are replaced by slender seedpods, 6–10 inches long, which remain dangling from the branches and serve to identify the tree after the flowers are gone.

Named for its resemblance to willows, this popular ornamental tree is actually related to catalpa trees, Yellowbells (Tecoma stans), and Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). Its exotic-looking blooms, rapid growth, drought tolerance, and ease of maintenance have made it a sought-after plant within its range, which in nature is from south-central Texas south to Nuevo Leon and Zacatecas in Mexico and west all the way to southern California and Baja California. Adapted to desert washes, it does best with just enough water to keep it blooming and healthily green through the warm months. Many cultivars have been selected, with varying flower colors, leaf sizes, and amounts of seed pods.

Since the tree will ultimately achieve about the same width as its height, it is recommended to give it plenty of space. You may even wish to plant if away from the house so that it will not overhang it in future years.

From the Image Gallery

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis
Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis
Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

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Desert Willow

The desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis) is a native Texas tree or shrub that resembles the willow but isn’t actually part of the willow family. This lovely, drought resistant plant makes a fine addition to any garden where drought is a problem. It provides fragrant and beautiful flowers in conditions under which other trees and shrubs perish.

About the Desert Willow Tree

The desert willow tree isn’t related to the willow (Salix) family of trees. Its leaves do indeed resemble the willow, however, which led to its name, the desert willow. True willow trees need lots of water and are frequently found growing near rivers, creeks or ponds. Desert willows are the opposite, and need less than 30 inches of water per year. If they get too much water, either through rainfall or overzealous watering, they can die.


The desert willow grows to about 30 feet tall. It can be shaped into either a tree or a shrub, much like the crepe myrtle that grows in the southeastern United States, with either a single or multiple trunk. The leaves are long and green and slender like a willow, which is how the desert willow got its name.

The blooms are what sets the desert willow apart from many other trees and shrubs and makes it a desirable addition to the garden. Flowers appear in mid spring and the desert willow blooms throughout the summer and sometimes even into the early fall. Blossoms are typically pink or a light lilac color, but colors ranging from white to dark red have been reported. White and dark red are considered rare. The flowers have a pleasant fragrance, too. As the tree grows and pushes out new growth, new clusters of flowers appear.


Desert willows need bright, full sunshine, at least six or more hours per day. As their name implies, they’re desert dwellers and dislike moist roots. They need only about 8 to 14 inches of rain per year according to the New Mexico agricultural extension flier on this tree. Although these trees are hardy in zones 6 and 7, rainfall amounts in most states falling within these zones make the desert willow difficult to grow. If you do decide to try a desert willow and live in an area with average rainfall, be sure to plant them in very well drained soil. The desert willow isn’t fussy about its soil and will grow in almost any type as long as it is well drained.


Desert willows offer many benefits for the home garden. Their ability to withstand drought conditions makes them ideal for arid gardens where many flowers won’t grow without extensive watering. In areas of the southwest, the desert willow offers color and fragrance instead of cactus spines.

Hummingbirds love the flowers and frequent them for nectar. They’ll also attract birds and butterflies, and one species of moth, the white winged moth, lays it eggs on this tree.

Lastly, because this is a very tough tree that grows where others die, desert willows can be planted on steep, arid slopes. Tree roots prevent erosion, a very important benefit in areas prone to flash floods and erosion. Planting a stand of desert willow trees along a steep bank may prevent erosion of valuable topsoil.

Where to Buy

If you live in the southwest, you can purchase desert willows at garden centers. A mail order sources of this plant is Guzman’s Greenhouse.

Chilopsis linearis,
‘Burgundy’, Burgundy Desert Willow

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Desert-Willow should be grown in full sun and is extremely drought-tolerant although it responds to summer irrigation in the drier climates with nice growth, a full canopy, and flowers. While the trees will grow and flower better with adequate moisture, they will not tolerate over-watering, especially in eastern north America. Plant in raised beds in regions receiving more than 30 inches rainfall. Plants are native to dry washes and canyons bottoms along stream beds. They are usually deciduous for no more than about 8 weeks. Flowers attract the carpenter bee in large numbers. In some parts of Mexico the dried flowers are brewed into a tea thought to have medicinal qualities.

The multi-trunked, well branched habit of growth and thick growth make Desert-Willow well suited for a wide screen or tall hedge. Groups can be planted in a large-scale landscape for a splash of flower color. Flowers occur on new wood and can appear on trees as young as two years old. Hummingbirds enjoy visiting this plant. Plants pruned back to nearly ground level each year form a nice shrub 3-10 feet tall and flower more than a tree that is left unpruned. Avoid over-watering the plant once it is well established, or plant on a raised bed if irrigation water will fall on the root zone.

Flowers, seeds and leaves can be considered messy by some people. Seeds can sprout under the right conditions and could become weedy. The wood is weak, so be sure to prune to create good structure with no bark included in the branch crotches. Thin main branches that grow very long. Cultivars include “White Storm’, ‘Dark Storm’, ‘Marfa Lace’, ‘Alpine’, ‘Hope’, ‘Tejas’, ‘Barranco’, ‘Burgundy’ (no fruit) and others. ‘Lois Adams’ is a new trademarked cultivar with outstanding purple-red flowers and little or no pod production.

Desert Willow Tree Facts: Caring For And Planting Desert Willow Trees

The desert willow is a little tree that adds color and fragrance to your backyard; provides summer shade; and attracts birds, hummingbirds and bees. The long, slender leaves make you think of willow, but once you learn some desert willow tree facts, you’ll see that it is not in the willow family at all.

Desert Willow Tree Facts

The desert willow’s scientific name is Chilopsis linearis. It’s a small, delicate tree that usually doesn’t grow above 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide. This makes planting desert willow trees possible even for those with small backyards.

With its many trunks, the tree presents a unique, graceful silhouette that is familiar in the Southwest deserts. The thin, drooping leaves can get up to 12 inches long, filling in the irregular crown of the tree with willowy softness.

The fragrant trumpet flowers grow in clusters on the branch tips and bloom from spring through fall. They can be found in shades of pink, violet and white, all with yellow throats.

Planting desert willow trees is rewarding and easy if you live in USDA hardiness zones 7b through 11. When placed in a location beside your home, the trees offer summer shade but allow ambient heating in the colder months. Consider planting desert willow trees in groups if you need a privacy screen or windbreak. This kind of grouping also offers shelter to nesting birds.

How to Grow a Desert Willow

What is a desert willow if not an easy tree to grow? Learning how to grow a desert willow is not difficult since it is readily cultivated. The seeds in the long, thin pods grow so readily that the tree is considered invasive in some areas. Planting desert willow trees from cuttings is also possible.

One of the most interesting desert willow tree facts is that the seeds establish themselves in newly deposited river sediments after seasonal flowing. The young trees trap and hold soil sediment as their roots grow, creating islands.

When you are trying to figure out how to grow a desert willow, remember that the tree is native to the desert. Think full sun and soil with excellent drainage when growing these trees in your landscape. If your region gets more than 30 inches a year rainfall, plant desert willow trees in raised beds to ensure drainage.

Caring for Desert Willows

As you are gathering desert willow tree facts, don’t forget how easy the tree is to maintain. Caring for a desert willow once it is established is a snap.

Like other desert plants, the desert willow only needs a very occasional, deep irrigation. It is pest and disease free and requires little pruning.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

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Sunday – March 03, 2013

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Soils, Trees
Title: Desert Willow tree for Plano, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

I live near Dallas, Texas. I have a small Desert Willow tree that I would like to plant. What is the root system of this tree like? Would I be able to plant it near our patio? How far from the house’s foundation should the tree be planted? I am trying to fit this beautiful tree into my garden (which is becoming more and more crowded).

As far as intrusiveness of the roots, this small tree is in the Bignoniaceae (Trumpet Creeper) family. Therefore, Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) is more closely related to vines than most trees. Its nearest relations are Tecoma stans (Yellow bells), Campsis radicans (Trumpet creeper) and Catalpa bignonioides (Southern catalpa). If you look at the pictures below from our Image Gallery, you can clearly see the similarity.

We don’t think that placing Desert Willow near concrete will be any threat to the concrete, but you need to be careful to dig a good deep hole and plan for the trunk to be at least a couple of feet from the nearest concrete, so the roots will have plenty of access to the top of the soil for moisture as well as gas exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide at the soil surface.

Now, how will it do in Dallas County? This USDA Plant Profile map shows that it does grow in Dallas County, but most of the rest of the counties where it grows are more desert-like. Follow this plant link, Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) to our webpage on it where you can find out its growing conditions, light requirements, time of bloom and so forth. Here are its growing conditions:

“Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.
Conditions Comments: Allow to dry out between waterings, as this will encourage more extensive waves of blooms. Avoid excessive water and fertilizer, as that can lead to overly rapid growth, fewer blooms, and a weaker plant. Prolonged saturation can result in rot. Wont grow as fast or get as large in clay soil but wont suffer there either. Can be drought-deciduous in some regions. Can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees”

You will note that its water needs are modest, and it would prefer not to be overwatered. It also requires sun, which we consider to be 6 or more hours of sun a day. It can survive all right with a little less sun but blooms better in full sun. It does need alkaline soil, such as the limestone-based desert soils in Texas, but should tolerate the soils in Plano. If you have clay soil (and you probably do) it would help if you added some sand or even decomposed granite to the fill dirt, to provide good drainage and make the soil more desert-like.

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis
Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis
Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis
Yellow bells
Tecoma stans
Trumpet creeper
Campsis radicans
Southern catalpa
Catalpa bignonioides

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This is How You Need to Care for a Desert Willow Tree

Planting a desert willow tree can be quite a gardening experience for those who want to try a hand at planting trees. Learn how to take care of a desert willow tree and maintain it, to have it blooming and growing well throughout the year.

Desert willow trees are tall, attractive and easy to take care of, once you learn the ins and outs of how to care for one. Large and imposing in its stature, this deciduous tree originates from the Southern parts of the United States, where it grows in large clusters. The desert willow tree or Chilopsis linearis is no ordinary tree, and has pretty flowers that resemble bell flowers with its hollow, bell-like shape.

It grows well during the spring and summer time, being a desert tree to begin with, where the tree calls for special attention once it starts to take root. The colors of the flowers transform its bleak appearance into one that is eye-catching, ranging from purples and yellows, to pinks and whites. This tree does well for those who have large sunny backyards or front yards, where there is enough room for this tree to thrive and grow, making any garden look impressive. These are known to be drought-tolerant trees and resistant to cold weather, where it can protect areas from erosion-harm and floods.

Growth of a Desert Willow Tree

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These trees are a cinch to grow and do not require painstaking methods to see them take root. The best time to see the tree in blossom is between April and August. It can reach a towering height of 25 feet in a few years provided that owners take care of this beautiful tree. There are two ways to plant the tree, one is through the seeds and the other is by purchasing a miniature plant version of it through a nursery that specially grows such trees.

The entire process of planting the tree should be followed right down to a tee, with important things on hand like fertilizer, back-fill, organic matter, gardening tools and so on.

How to Take Care of a Desert Willow Tree

Now that you have your tree growing successfully from the ground up, it is now time to understand how caring for this tree is a priority that needs to be tended to. Be sure to have the necessary gardening tools that will help you take care of your tree. Things you’ll need in your garden tools collection are pruners and a pruning saw.

When the tree is still growing in size and girth, it is important to trim and keep it free from dead twigs and weak branches, using what is known as loppers while the tree is still short and young.


The canopy of a full-grown tree needs to be trimmed down slightly, giving the branches enough room to allow flowers to bloom freely while encouraging new ones. Snip off branches and twigs like I said (using the pruners), that show signs of decay or weakness, since this can spread like wildfire and lead to the state of the tree going bad. Get rid of jutting limbs at the bottom of the tree, keeping only a few around that area to promote stem growth. During the winter, check the tree for any diseases which is not common but still a situation that can occur.

Watering the Tree

During the springtime and summer season, it is important to water the plant monthly and then bring it down to every 6 weeks once the winter season rolls in. I’m sure you know that these desert trees cannot have long-standing water collecting at the base of their roots, since they do just fine with the adequate amount of water that it is supplied now and then. Sunlight has to be of optimum availability, seeing that these desert trees are exposed to the sun all day, with no shade whatsoever to obstruct that much-needed sunlight. Check the root area for any signs of decay, and apply fast draining soil to this area to suck away any moisture that is overly present around the root section.

Promoting Tree Growth

If you’d like to have more than one desert willow tree in your backward, that is if you can accommodate another, then cut off a branch from the tree and bury it so that it can take root gradually. The best time to grow these trees is in the fall, where the winter is meant for the roots to grow better and maintain their outreach as they mature.

For a Straighter Trunk

Desert willow trees tend to slump when they grow, giving them a very slouchy appearance that you may not like as the tree matures. Build around the trunk a structure that will help straighten the tree as it grows, like wooden planks or tying them down with ropes to help it grow upright and not in an arch-like manner. Because extreme winds can prevail in areas unexpectedly or because they’re prone to such weather conditions, it is important to stake a tree. This means that you’ll have to find a kind of material to use, be it cloth or a kind of rope to help it stay put during windy weather. This is by securing the tree’s bark and then driving two stakes into the ground opposite both ends of the tree at a right angle towards the wind direction.

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These guidelines aren’t all that hard to stick by provided that they have two main factors in your favor, one being ample sunlight and the other being a spacious backyard / front yard. Over time you will come to familiarize yourself with the way desert willow trees grow and behave, and accordingly you will know what is needed to take care of them.

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