Monday, February 29, 2016


A year ago I bought an ocotillo. I planted it one day while Philip was at work and was delighted that he approved not only the purchase but the positioning of it. He has since commented that it's his favorite plant in the yard, despite looking like a bundle of dead sticks. It is not on the irrigation system but just gets a weekly watering. Anyway, after nearly a year of waiting, our plant has suddenly come into leaf.

Here in the desert ocotillos are frequently used in landscape schemes. In garden centers they are often displayed bare root and looking totally desiccated but amazingly seem to grow. When planted, the securing wires are often left on which is annoying as the plant is never allowed to spread and grow naturally. Philip and I have been known to trespass and cut them free!

Our ocotillo

the leaves appeared in a few days

Bundled up in a garden center

This is a desert plant, but to more temperate eyes, looking a little like a deciduous berberis with straggly stems and thorns. Its correct name is Fouquieria splendens. It sometimes goes by other common names such as coachwhip, candlewood, slimwood, desert coral, Jacob's staff or Jacob's cactus. It is naturally found in the Sonoran Desert,  the Chihuahuan Desert, southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico.

Mature ocotillo

Ocotillo is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are still alive. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small green leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months. Flowering is spasmodic but colorful with bright red flowers that are pollinated by
hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

Flowering ocotillo

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing plant! A new species to me, in a Genus I didn't know, and that in a family I had never heard of! Wikipedia points me to Fouquieria columnaris as a related very odd tree. An inspiration for Dr. Seuss or Dr Who?