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ReWild: Chilopsis Linearis 'Bubba'

By Sharon Reeve, for Let’s Talk Plants! July 2024.

Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba'. Photo credit, Sharon Reeve.

Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba'

There is Chilopsis linearis, the Desert Willow, and then there is --Bubba! He's a big boy with larger flowers and a larger trunk. Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba' was discovered by botanist Paul Cox of the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Another thing 'Bubba' doesn't skimp on is the number of blooms. This is the most floriferous Chilopsis! As you can see from the photo this raceme of flowers will continually bloom as new flowers mature. The tree blooms in the hotter months. It started flowering around the first of May and will put out flowers all summer into fall. The big-throated intensely colored magenta/purple blooms have a lighter-colored frilly upper part and golden nectar guides on the darker bottom part of the petal. The flower is a true tube in that it is synpetalous and does not have separate petals. Hummingbirds love these fragrant flowers! The selections of Chilopsis vary in the amount of fragrance their flowers offer. 'Bubba' has days when it fills my garden with the sweetest indescribable perfume! The family Bignoniaceae is heavily represented in my garden as the flowers are hummingbird favorites. Big carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) also visit the flowers. Large nectaries at the base of the flowers provide a delicious sugary reward for anyone willing to venture down the long throat. 

Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba'. Photo credit, Sharon Reeve.

Chilopsis linearis is native to Mexico and the desert southwest in desert washes in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. It also occurs in Texas, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. It is hardy down to 10 degrees and can be a die-back shrub in protected colder areas in Zone 5 or 6. As is the case with other plants needing good drainage, winter wet is more of an issue for hardiness than the cold temperatures. Since it needs heat to do well, if your plant does die back to the roots, give it ample time in the summer for it to resprout. During that time do not trim any "dead" growth as it may not actually be dead. 'Bubba' must have excellent drainage. Wet soil will quickly take it out. It is naturally insect pest and disease resistant. The only insect pest I have noticed on my tree is the ever-present Argentine ant. I am happily noticing many fewer ants since I stopped watering and now only spot water. The tough long strappy leaves are deep green and wind resistant. This is a deciduous tree and remains leafless for several months. Another good thing about this particular Chilopsis is it puts more energy into continuous flowers and doesn't form many seed pods. It blooms dependably for at least 5 months. It is said to form a few seed pods, but I have never seen any on my plant. To propagate it use semi-hardwood cuttings in late May or June. Other selections have smaller flowers in colors ranging from white to the deepest purple. This color range is naturally found and used to breed exceptional color forms. Pinkish white-flowered Chilopsis occurs in the west and deeper purple in the east. 'Lucretia Hamilton' has flowers in a particularly rich jewel tone of reddish purple with yellow nectar guides. They are less bi-colored than some Chilopsis flowers. The tree itself is smaller and the flowers are more dainty than 'Bubba', and it has long seed pods.

This tree needs a little helpful pruning and training to become a graceful tree. I planted 'Bubba' thirteen years ago and right now it is about 12 feet high and it is filling in nicely. Every year there is little twiggy dead growth that I remove. It might be because I rarely water it but it does not seem to be a fast grower. It is getting by on the 9 inches-or-so of rain we get here in La Mesa. Eventually, this tree may be 20-30 feet tall and wide. I hope it stays smaller. Supplemental summer water increases the blooming period.

Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba'. While the tree looks substantial through the author's eyes, through a camera lens the plant appears airier. Photo credit, Sharon Reeve.

While the tree looks substantial through my eyes, through a camera lens the plant appears airier. In my garden, I have paired its dark green leathery leaves and purple flowers with Dendromecon harfordii with golden yellow flowers and bluish leaves. It is a nice combination. I love this tree because it survives on ambient rainfall and doesn't need any special care except for a little pruning if you want to improve the form, yet it blooms continually all summer.

Chilopsis linearis 'Bubba'. The author has paired its dark green leathery leaves and purple flowers with Dendromecon harfordii with golden yellow flowers and bluish leaves. Photo credit, Sharon Reeve.

'Bubba' is aptly named because it is easy to grow with great floral rewards for the wildlife in my garden. 


Sharon Reeve is a Master Gardener who has worked as a consulting Horticulturist for Monrovia Nurseries, and as a landscape designer for BrightView Landscapes in San Diego. In 2015, she graduated with an MS from SDSU in Biology/Ecology. Her design business is called ReWild. She specializes in drought tolerant, native, and wildlife gardens, and writes two blogs.



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