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Fouquieria splendens (Ocotillo)

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Scientific Name

Fouquieria splendens Engelm.

Common Names

Ocotillo, Coachwhip, Candlewood, Slimwood, Desert Coral, Jacob's Staff, Jacob Cactus, Vine Cactus

Synonyms

Fouquieria spinosa, Fouquieria splendens f. micrantha, Fouquieria splendens f. albiflora, Idria columnaria

Scientific Classification

Family: Fouquieriaceae
Genus: Fouquieria

Description

Fouquieria splendens is an unusual, spiny, drought deciduous shrub up to 33 feet (10 m) tall. For much of the year, it appears to be an arrangement of long, spiny dead sticks. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with ovate, up to 1.6 inch (4 cm) long leaves. The stems are up to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter at the base. The plant branches very heavily at its base, but above that, the branches are pole-like and rarely divide further. The plants in cultivation may not exhibit any secondary branches. The flowers are orange-red to red (rarely pinkish, creamy-white or white) and appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer and occasionally fall. They are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem.

Hardiness

USDA hardiness zones 8a to 11b: from 10 °F (−12.2 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Ocotillo is a semi-succulent with good drought tolerance once established and a cold hardiness of 10 °F (-12  °C). This plant requires a well-drained soil and full sun. It tends to lose its leaves when exposed to extreme drought but leafs out in spring and summer rains.

The plant may be difficult to locate at a nursery. Ocotillo is protected, which means it is illegal to harvest it from the desert. In the home landscape, plant Ocotillo in a shallow container as a stunning desert display.

Ocotillo has few pests and no known diseases, but watch for scale and sucking insects, which you can zap with insecticidal soap.

Origin

Fouquieria splendens is native to the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Desert in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

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