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Arboretum Spotlight: Desert willow offers showy flowers

Arboretum Spotlight: Desert willow offers beautiful tropical-looking flowers from early summer to frost.
Arboretum Spotlight: Desert willow offers beautiful tropical-looking flowers from early summer to frost.

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum’s “40 Plants You (Probably) Have Never Heard of – But Will Love,” 40 can’t-fail, easy-care, low-water plants well adapted to our region but hard to find.

Desert willow

Chilopsis linearis

Size: 10 to 14 feet tall and wide

Bloom season: Summer and fall; color varies by variety from pale pink to darker purple

Exposure: Full sun.

Pruning needs: Shape when young to assure a good form.

Water needs: Very low water; once established, irrigate deeply once a month.

Snapshot: Native to Baja and Southern California as well as Northern Mexico, desert willow is a small deciduous tree with narrow leaves and large, tropical- looking showy pink or purple flowers that keep blooming from early summer to first frost. Its leaves make it look like a willow, hence the nickname, but it’s actually related to catalpa trees, which have similar flowers. Those pretty blooms are followed by long, narrow seed pods. For the home garden, look for “seedless” hybrid varieties, since the true native desert willow will stop blooming when seed pods form. This versatile little tree is a tough plant for low-water landscapes and dry, unforgiving locations.

For more on “40 Plants,” click on arboretum.ucdavis.edu.

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