The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Fouquieria splendens
Ocotillo

FAMILY:  Fouquieriaceae — Ocotillo family

OTHER COMMON NAMES:  Coachwhip, Vine cactus, Candlewood

ETYMOLOGY: Both the ocotillo's family (Fouquieriaceae) and its genus (Fouquieria) were named for Pierre Edouard Fouquier (1776-1850), a naturalist and professor of medicine in Paris and friend of the German botanist C. S. Kunth, who first described and named the plant.

The species name splendens is Latin for radiant or shining, a reference to the brilliant red flowers.

DESCRIPTION:  One of the most striking plants native to the southwestern United States, the ocotillo is most attractive when in bloom. Red-orange petals fused into tubular flowers form dense spikes at the tips of the many long, thin, spiny stems. Emerging from the center of each floral tube are reddish elongated sections of the style and numerous reddish stamens topped with yellow pollen-laden anthers. The flowers are a reliable source of nectar for hummingbirds during their spring migration, since it will flower regardless of rain. Growing vertically from a very short trunk, the stems often fan out, giving the appearance of an inverted cone. The ocotillo is extremely responsive to rain. The stems will leaf out within 3 days of a summer rain and at other times of the year when warm enough. The leaves will dry out and fall off if a few weeks go by without further rain. During dry periods, the slightly curved, often wavy spines and the pale gray and blackish-green striations of the stem can be fully appreciated.
The ocotillo is found in the Sonoran, Mohave, and Chihuahuan Deserts. Flowering can begin any time from February through May, depending on location. Although ocotillo stems have spines, this woody shrub is not a cactus.