It looks like an orchid, doesn’t it?
It isn’t, and it isn’t a willow, either. Chilopsis linearis is actually in the begonia family, along with the catalpa tree and the trumpet vine. But the leaves look willow-ish and the native peoples used it in the same way they used willows. Close enough.
Here in the Texas Hill Country, we’re on the eastern edge of the desert willow’s range, which extends all the way to the Pacific and south into Mexico. This little tree is pretty enough to grace urban landscapes and doesn’t require much water. (It does very well on our 30″ a year.) It has been grown as far north as Kansas, although it does best in Zones 7-11.
But there’s more to this plant than a pretty face. Throughout the Southwest, native people used the flowers, leaves, and bark in hot poultices to treat rheumatism and skin infections, and as a tea to soothe coughs. Research indicates that a tea brewed from the flowers can produce an infection-fighter antioxidant and may help to regulate glucose metabolism. The flower blossoms and seed pods are edible and were used as food. Strips of bark were beaten into a fabric-like material for shirts and breechclouts and twisted into cordage to make nets. Small branches were used in basketry and larger branches as frames for dwellings. An all-around-useful little tree.
The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss liked to say that some animals–frogs, for instance–“are good to think on.” They are “natural mediators” that link nature and culture and carry messages for and about the peoples who valued them. For us modern folk, the desert willow is mostly a decorative magnet for bees and hummingbirds and a welcome patch of leafy shade on a hot afternoon. But I like to think about the usefulness of this little tree to the resourceful people who moved through Meadow Knoll in centuries past. It’s a bridge from my world to theirs, giving me a glimpse into the lives of people who loved this land and depended on it in a different way than I do.
Book report. Whew. I’ve been working on the latest (#9) novel in the Dahlias series. If there are no distractions this week, I’m hoping to hand it off to my copy editor by this time next week. In the meantime, the Enterprise novella trilogy is coming out: Deadlines is available now, Fault Lines will be available next week, and Firelines the first week of August. You can have all three novellas–in both print and digital formats–on August 18. This is the second of my Pecan Springs novella trilogies and features Jessica Nelson, a crime reporter at the Enterprise. The first trilogy gave Ruby Wilcox a chance to tell her story.
And yes, there will be another China Bayles novel–in 2021, I hope.
Talent search. I want to put in a quick plug for the Story Circle Network, which I founded back in 1997. My special area of responsibility includes SCN’s book review program, which focuses on indie-published books by, for, and about women. We’re expanding our review team and I am looking for volunteer book reviewers. If you are a woman who writes reviews for your blog or for Amazon/Goodreads/NetGalley or other publications and would like to help support our mission by reviewing for us, I’d love to hear from you. (You can use the contact form here.) Reviewers get free books (of course), publications for their portfolios, gold stars for their Outstanding Literary Citizen badge, and my enduring gratitude. Oh, and they also get free Story Circle membership bonus months. Such a deal!
Reading note. It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.–Oscar Wilde