Bright red desert flowers: Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a desert plant that is found in the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Deserts of North America. Although there are other ocotillo species that are found further south. The plant is made up of long thin individual stacks and when it is in bloom those stacks are tipped with a cone of bright red flowers. In fact, they are named for these flowers as ocotillo is Spanish for little torch. This flowering actually is timed to happen when the hummingbirds are migrating through the desert.


The bright flowers are highly visible and can attract birds from a great deal of distance. In this mutualistic relationship, the hummingbird reives nectar and the plant gets pollinated. In one study plants were taken and transported to different regions and they still bloomed at the same time, suggesting a link between blooming and the genetic makeup of the plant. The female flower-piercing carpenter bee is also a pollinator of the plant. The flowers are also used by humans as tea or in salads.



The shrub is a deciduous shrub. When there is enough water small 2-inch leaves grow from the stacks but if there is not enough water these will fall off. The leaves can sprout within 3 days of rainfall though. When they do not have leaves they rely on chlorophyll in their stems to produce energy. Their stems are also succulent, or water storing. The plant can live an estimated 60 to 100 years and reach over 20 feet tall. The plant is very common and is even cultivated. It is easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. In some regions of the desert people even use the plant as fencing as the sharp think spines prevent the travel of people and animals.ocotillo

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