Trees of the High Desert – Desert Willow

Desert willows are one of the few trees that are native to the Mojave desert and will thrive in urban landscapes. They go great with any desert landscaping, and function wonderfully as a focus of the yard as a specimen tree once larger. Being a smaller sized tree, the desert willow is utility friendly, able to be planted closer to homes and concrete than larger trees, and remains small enough for the average homeowner to maintain it.

Why Plant A Desert Willow?

  • Native to California
  • Low water requirements
  • Low care requirements
  • Thrive in the local environment
  • Showy pink flowers during summer

Complaints About The Desert Willow

  • They don’t give great shade
  • Slower growing or don’t grow large
  • They sucker profusely when training the tree as a single trunk tree or if you routinely prune them
  • Seed pods hang on the tree
  • Susceptible to aphids which can leave a shiny appearance of the leaves and bark, and sticky honeydew droppings on anything beneath the tree.

Additional Information About Desert Willows

Not only are Desert Willows native to California, but they are native to San Bernardino and Riverside counties. That said, they adapt very well to our climate with little to no water after establishment.

Desert willows also are a good indicator for the last freeze of the cold season. Once desert willows leaf out, then you’re more than likely not going to get more freezing temperatures. This is used frequently in gardening to know when certain plants can be planted outside without potential damage from freezing temperatures.

While called “Desert Willow”, these trees are not willows and do not love moist environments. Too much water can easily destroy the root system of a desert willow.

Flowers emerge in midsummer, when most other plants are in a summer dormancy, and persist throughout the summer providing color when few other plants do.

Desert willow trees are relatives of catalpa trees and are frequently hybridized with them to create the chitalpa tree.

Right Tree, Right Place

Desert willow trees can grow up to 30’+ in ideal conditions, but more commonly grow up to 20′ at maturity. The canopy can spread up to 15′ wide. Knowing this we can deduce that one should not plant this tree:

  • Close to your house (within 5′)
  • On top of your septic tank cleanout
  • Immediately adjacent to any hardscape.


California Poison Control System –

This plant is not listed as toxic by the California Poison Control System, or the following poisonous plant lists:

Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System –
University of Pennsylvania Poisonous Plants –
Toxic Plants of Texas –
Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock –
Poisonous Plants of North Carolina –
Poisonous Plants –