Wednesday Weed – Desert Willow (Chitalpa)

Desert Willow (Chitalpa tashkentensis)

Oops! This should, of course, have gone out on Wednesday. Apologies for the double post!

Dear Readers, yesterday I mentioned that some street trees had appeared in Church Lane, East Finchley, which had been given names. Apparently these trees (known as Desert Willows or Chitalpa tashkentsis) appeared more or less overnight, to the delight of the local residents, who then decided to name them after local people. So, we have Eve, named for Eve Bagley, whose family have lived in Church Lane for 90 years…

‘Angela’ for one of the original residents of Cricket Row on Church Lane…

‘Ted’ for Eve’s late husband, who was a veteran sailor on the Arctic convoys to Russia during World War II…

‘Pauline’ for the mother of Lisa, one of the residents of Church Lane…

and Dominic for the son of Church Lane residents Gail and Barry.

What a lovely idea this is! I’m sure that these will be the best nurtured, most loved trees in East Finchley. We humans do love to connect, and if we manage to do that by seeing plants or animals as individuals (which of course they are), all the better.

What on earth is a desert willow though? Well, the Chitalpas are hybrids between two closely related plants – the original desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa).

The ‘original’ desert willow isn’t a willow at all (though the leaves look rather similar), but one look at the flowers would tell you that this is a much more exotic plant – it comes originally from Mexico and the southern parts of the USA. The flowers are pollinated by large bees such as bumblebees.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearia) Photo By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The other half of the partnership is the northern catalpa, which lives in a very small area of the midwestern United States.

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) Photo By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

These two trees were hybridised by a botanist called A.Rusanov in the Botanic Gardens of Uzbekistan back in 1964. Although it looks very exotic, it’s not a bad choice as a street tree – it’s very drought-resistant and fast growing. I can’t wait for the flowers to appear. Let’s hope that they appeal to bumblebees in the same way that the parent plants do.

There are two forms of the plant – ‘Pink Dawn’ and ‘Morning Cloud’. It will be interesting to see which variety the Church Lane trees are.

Variety ‘Pink Dawn’ Photo By Frau Siebenschläfer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Variety ‘Morning Cloud’ By Benny White – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In his book ‘London’s Street Trees’, Paul Wood calls Chitalpa ‘a street tree of the future’, so it’s interesting to see that it’s already turning up in East Finchley (and in some numbers too!). It’s always worth paying attention to the trees on our streets, they are often such an eclectic mix. To add a note of caution though, the International Dendrology Society suggests that Chitalpa is likely to be at the edge of its range in the UK, and that, without the long hot summers that its parent plants are used to, Chitalpa is always likely to be slightly unhappy. We shall have to see what happens, but fingers crossed! Although the one in the photo below is leaning out into the sunshine (as street trees so often have to to get enough light), it also looks very lush and green. The ones in Church Lane will not be overshadowed, so I have every hope that they will do better.

Photo by Owen Johnson of a leaning Chitalpa in London in August 2018 (see link above)



2 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Desert Willow (Chitalpa)

  1. Anne

    I look forward to your report on the flowering of these trees – and I love the idea of giving the street trees names. I hope more permanent plaques will take the place of the present name boards in due course.


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