The Desert Diva Demands an Audience
A showy new desert willow makes its debut.
By Rachel Kupfer
If you’re looking for something fresh and colorful to spice up your landscape, your search shouldn’t fall too far from a new variety of desert willow—the Desert Diva (Chilopsis linearis ‘Lopur’ Desert Diva).
“The first thing you that you notice are these stunning, deep burgundy and yellow-throated flowers,” says Nicholas Staddon, plants and marketing manager for Mountain States Wholesale Nursery in Glendale. “The flower buds are pearlescent, almost resembling berries. The effect of this dark red flower against these lightly colored buds is absolutely dazzling.”
Similar to the name that inspired it, the operatic “diva,” the tree is splashy, alluring, and commands attention, Staddon explains. “In the same way that a singer will make a great statement onstage, this plant will have a big impact on a garden.”
For landscape architect Mary Estes, who learned of the Desert Diva in a Mountain States newsletter, the head-turner was something different for her to start recommending to clients.
“When I first saw a photo of the flower, I was immediately struck by its color,” Estes recalls. “And the name is so fun. Everyone wants one.”
A NEW NATIVE
Cultivated right here in Arizona by Mountain States, the Desert Diva will do especially well your backyard’s arid soil. Staddon notes that it can also thrive outside of the Southwest, even as far north as San Francisco and as far east as North Carolina. Before its release to the market in 2017, the cultivar underwent a 16-year-long development process, from seedlings to patenting and trademarking, before it was ready for consumers’ backyards.
Instead of producing seed pods, the plant’s lush foliage bursts with clusters of flowers. And because it is 98 percent seedless, the Desert Diva has a longer bloom season, lasting from April through August. Staddon estimates this species will grow 5 to 10 feet smaller in width than its desert willow counterparts, and can reach 25 feet high by 15 feet wide at maturity. The vibrant beauty’s abundance of blossoms encourage hummingbirds, honeybees and other pollinators to gather.
RAISING A STAR
Care-wise, these desert natives are low maintenance and drought-tolerant. Because desert willows have a riparian nature they can do well in areas where rainwater collects, also protecting against erosion. “You don’t have to pamper the Desert Diva,” Staddon says. “She gets along quite well on her own.”
So far, Estes has incorporated the stunner into client Anne O’Brien’s Scottsdale garden and has it earmarked for others. The homeowner appreciates its dark green foliage, which provides filtered shade for Bouteloua curtipendula, a shrub grass, and creates a soft structure that contrasts nicely with the clean lines of her nearby agaves. She especially enjoys the bright addition of color in her backyard during the summer. The plant’s unusual vibrancy complements pink muhlenbergia grass, lavender penstemon and red fairy duster, among others, she observes. “When it’s uncomfortably hot for most people, it’s heartwarming to have your plants happy and celebrating the heat,” she says.
This unique crowd-pleaser is sure to make a statement in any landscape. “You don’t see this plant everywhere while you are driving around in the Valley, and it has not been over-used here,” Estes says. “The Desert Diva is a plant pioneer, and those who incorporate it into their gardens are pioneers as well.”
O’Brien, an avid hiker who recently was recognized by the Garden Club of America with a Conservation Award, fits that bill. After years of admiring desert flora from afar while hiking through the desert, she says that she appreciates when innovations make plants even more appealing up close. “It’s exciting to explore the new plants being developed for desert gardens. The Desert Diva is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.”
Discover other spectacular species cultivated at Mountain States Wholesale Nursery here!