2013

 
 

Chitalpa, or Chitalpa tashkentensis, is as unlikely a tree as you could get. It is a bi-generic hybrid, or cross between an Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) and a desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), a shrubby little tree of the American southwest. Even more interestingly it was not created in America but in the Soviet Union in the 60s. Much later it was released to the rest of the world. When it arrived in the US, it went to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, in Claremont, California, where it was named “chitalpa.”

The surprising thing about Chitalpa is that it worked out so amazingly well. It is more cold hardy than the desert willow and lacks the messy seed-pods of the catalpa. Its stunning, orchid-like flowers are pale lavender and pink with yellow throats and are produced at the ends of new growth so they are very prominent. Flowering begins in spring and continues well into late fall. The tree is small to medium in size, height of about 25 to 30 feet with a similar spread. It has open, spreading branches and a form, as good, or better than either parent and makes a splendid shade tree. The leaves are longer and broader than desert willow, but much smaller than catalpa.
Chitalpa is well adapted to hot, dry locations with good drainage. It is
hardy throughout the southern half of the US, and particularly well adapted to the dry southwest, meaning it is also at home in much of Australia. And the blooms are a magnet for hummingbirds and bees.
There is a white-flowered variety called ‘Morning Cloud’.

As usual, this special tree will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

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Chitalpa

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