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Desert Diary


Many people ooh and aah over tropical flowers, but we in the Chihuahuan Desert have flowers that rival orchids, if we take the time to look. Most of us have seen the reddish blooms of the Desert Willow, but have you looked at the flowers up close and personal? Put these in a corsage, and few people will realize that they aren't seeing orchids. Observing them in their native habitat, of course, is quite another story.

These small trees usually are distributed along normally dry drainage ways or, thanks to their meager water requirements, planted along highway medians. They display no tropical luxuriant foliage, but a diffuse shade produced by narrow, willow-like leaves. Despite the leaf shape and the common name, the flowers and pod-like fruit quickly dissuade the knowledgeable viewer that these are in any way closely related to willows. People who have lived in the East, however, may recognize the blooms' similarity to the Catalpa Tree, a close relative. Easy to grow and water frugal, Desert Willows are ideal additions to native plant landscapes.
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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.

Desert Willow bloom

Flower of Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Photograph by A.H. Harris.