The Q&A Archives: New Breed Of Tree Called A Chitalpa

Question: I just aquired a tree from the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, CA called a Chitalpa it is a cross between a Catalpa and a Chilopsis. They crossed it to make it more drought resistan. I am having trouble finding any information about this new tree. I can find information about the Catalpa and the Chilopsis but not the Chiltalpa. I would appreciate any thing you can find.
Thank You Sue Valkenaar

Answer: Chitalpa is the name given to the bi-generic cross between the desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and catalpa (Catalpa bignoniodes). The name is correctly written as x Chitalpa to indicate this hybrid origin but for simplicity these plants are referred to simply as Chitalpa. The initial hybrids between Catalpa and Chilopsis were created in Uzbekistan in 1964 and introduced into the United States by Robert Hebb of the New York Botanic Garden in 1977. Although in cultivation in the United States during the 1980's, the hybrid remained unnamed until 1991 when Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden assigned them the name x Chitalpa tashkentensis. Chitalpa is a combination of the scientific name of the two parents and the specific name identifies the city in Uzbekistan where the hybrids were initially created. Two cultivars were additionally named by Rancho Santa Ana. the pink flowering cultivar as 'Pink Dawn' and the white cultivar as 'Morning Cloud'.

Chitalpa is an attractive small to medium sized ornamental tree that seems to have inherited the best features of both parents, being both beautiful and ideally suited to most of the soils and climates of the American Southwest. Among the best features of 'Pink Dawn' are the abundant clusters of showy pale pink flowers with each cluster containing from 15 to 40 flowers. The 1 inch long flowers have a funnel-shaped throat with conspicuous purple nectar guides that line the inside and emerge to give orchid striping to the flared pink petal lobes. Flowering initiates in May in Southern California and continues well into late fall. 'Morning Cloud' displays white flowers in similar clusters.

Chitalpa is a rapidly growing deciduous tree, branching readily near its base and has ascending branches that forms a dense broad oval crown. Although it is difficult to determine eventual size for these new trees it has been speculated, based on the growth of the oldest specimens that they will grow to 20-25 feet tall. It is a drought resistant plant, a trait it inherited from the desert willow, and it is fairly hardy, having withstood temperatures as low as 9 degrees F - It has been noted that it will freeze back to the ground in USDA Zone 6. Although many rapidly growing trees are intolerant of windy situations, Chitalpa can withstand even strong winds without breakage. Unlike either of its parents, Chitalpa is sterile and produces no messy seed pods. Additionally the flowers dry on the plant rather then fall fresh and so do not become a slick safety hazard on a walkway or patio.

Hope this provides the background information you're seeking. Best wishes with your new tree!

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