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Desert Willow

Deserts are full of plants that have adapted to a harsh environment.  Temperature extremes, from hot to cold, and the lack of moisture are the big issues. 

In addition, the soil is often salty which isn't something most plants like.  The Desert Willow is no exception.  It can thrive in these desert conditions.  The bright flowers it provides are a surprise to many people.

The Desert Willow isn't an actual Willow.  In reality it's part of the Begonia family.  In fact, it's the only type of Bigonia that grows in California.  These plants also grow in northern Mexico and southwestern Texas.  It grows in deserts there. 

It's a big plant.  The trunk can be as much as 6 inches thick.  They grow as high as 25 feet long.  The leaves are 3 inches to 6 inches in length, with a very sharp tip.  The flowers, which look like orchids, grow to up to two inches long.  Fruit is shaped like a cigar and can reach 8 inches in length.  They contain seeds with little wings that help them spread when they fall from the plant or are blown by the wind.

The Desert Willow is a phreatophyte, a type of plant that grows long roots to absorb water either from the ground supply or water table.  Since these plants grow near streams, rivers and pools, flowering is a sign that water can be found.  That's means some digging will probably produce moisture.  This plant will not flower without water.  Desert experts use the flower when they're looking for water.  Very dry deserts, like the Atacama Desert, where only 1 mm of waterfalls each year, won't have the Desert Willow. 



The Desert Willow is also called Mimbre.  This name means “Willow like”,  and the Mimbre is used to brew tea.  This tea is made from the dried flowers.  People make fence posts out of the trunks.  People get a lot of use out of this plant.

Not exactly what people expect in a desert plant, the Desert Willow still survives.