What is a Desert Willow Tree?

Jacob Queen

The desert willow tree is native to the Americas, and it grows to a height of between 20 and 40 feet (6 to 12 meters). Its bark has a gnarled look that develops gradually as the tree matures. In the later parts of spring, the desert willow tree produces colored blossoms—the flower color varies from white to deep red, with many shades of purple and pink. It’s not actually related to other willow trees, and it only gets its name because the leaves look similar. Dessert willows are generally hardy when it comes to dry climates, and they have become very popular for use in landscaping.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

There are several things that separate the desert willow tree from other desert species. For one thing, they don’t have thorns, and this can make them more ideal for people with children. Desert willows also need more water than most other desert plants. In the wild, they grow in areas that receive a lot of runoff during rainstorms, so they handle dry weather better than regular plants, but not to the same degree as a species like a cactus. They’re also known for being more tolerant of cold than the average desert species and will survive frosts as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12°C).

In historic terms, the dessert willow was used by people for many different purposes. The flowers were used by European settlers to make different kinds of medicines, and Indian tribes made baskets out of the stems. Settlers in the western United States used the wood for building fences and other structures on their cattle ranches and farms.

Most people who own a desert willow tree prune the branches occasionally while it's growing. If left alone, the trees can develop a shape that some would describe as unattractive. The general approach used by most people is to prune the lower branches while reducing the number of branches in the center. Doing this usually ensures that the fully grown plant looks much more like a regular tree.

The desert willow tree is normally planted in the spring. The trees can be somewhat vulnerable right after they're planted, so it pays for individuals to give them an entire summer for their initial growth. Technically, the plants can survive without watering once their roots are fully established, but if they get more water, they grow faster, so some people recommend watering them frequently until they reach a desirable size.

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