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Desert Diary


The Bignonia family, or Bignoniaceae in botany talk, contributes two beautifully blooming plants to the Chihuahuan Desert. Among the rocks in desert mountains, the large, bright, trumpet-shaped yellow flowers of Tecoma stans, variously known as Yellow Bells or Yellow Trumpet Bush, stand out like misplaced bits of sunshine among its dark, green foliage. Although the plant grows to tree size in the tropics, our local ones periodically freeze to the ground, keeping them shrub sized despite their rapid growth.

In washes and arroyos, the Desert Willow spreads a welcome, if sparse, shade. The misnomer of its common name derives from the willow-like leaves, but a tree in bloom leaves no doubt that it's not related to the water-loving willows with their dull-colored catkins for flowers. The delicately tinted, purplish blooms, divorced from their parent plant, might well be mistaken for orchids.

Such is the attractiveness of these plants that they are increasingly being incorporated into native plant gardens, adding beauty of form and flower, while being stingy with that all-important resource of the desert, water.

To see Tecoma stans or Desert Willows, visit the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at the Centennial Museum on the UTEP campus.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

flower   flowers and foliage

Left: Flower of the Desert Willow. Right: Flowers and foliage of Yellow Bells (with friend). Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Photographs by A.H. Harris.



Powell, A. M. 1998. Trees and shrubs of the Trans-Pecos and adjacent areas. University of Texas Press, Austin. 498 pp.

Web Resources

Yellowbells: of general interest, including use for landscaping.