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 will be 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'. San Marcos Growers has selected 'Pink Dawn' to grow as in our opinion it is the showier of the two.
Chitalpa 'Pink Dawn 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.
Chitalpa is a rapid 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.
No tree is without faults and although it has few, it has been noted that Chitalpa will mildew in southeasten US and will do likewise in cool coastal areas. This tree also has a habit of suckering near the base, making it difficult to create a high headed tree necessarily along walkways and in small patios. We feel this a better tree for hot inland areas and we no longer grow it.