Fouquieria splendens

Ocotillo Flowers

The ocotillo is a bajada resident that can be relied upon to bloom annually, even without leafing in particularly dry springs. It is an inverted, funnel-shaped desert plant with several woody, spiny, whip-like, straight branches angling outward from the base and rising as high as 20 feet.

Ocotillo are leafless most of the year, except immediately after rain; the leaves then quickly wither after the soil dries out. These narrow, oval leaves are about 2 inches long, appearing in bunches above spines.


Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of southeast California to west Texas and south into Mexico.


Open, stony, well-drained desert slopes below 5,000 feet.


Red flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch in length, with five short lobes curled back into 10-inch clusters. They appear at the ends of branches March through June or later, depending on rainfall.

Ocotillo against the sky

Ocotillo branches


Mature plants have as many as 75 slender branches (canes). Planted in rows, ocotillo become living fences.

Members of the ocotillo family (Fouquieriaceae), there are 11 species of the Fouquieria genus, most of which occur in Mexico. The ocotillo is the northernmost of these species. The boojum tree (F. columnaris) is a close relative occurring in Baja.

Ocotillo in Landscape
Ocotillo Branches Close Up

Other names for the ocotillo include:

  • Candlewood
  • Slimwood
  • Coachwhip
  • Vine Cactus
  • Flamingsword
  • Jacob's Staff


-- A.R. Royo

Desert Plant & Wildflower Index


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