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Fouquieria splendens

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Ocotillo near Gila Bend, Arizona

Secure  (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Fouquieriaceae
Genus: Fouquieria
F. splendens
Binomial name
Fouquieria splendens

Fouquieria spinosa Torr.

Fouquieria splendens (commonly known as ocotillo /ɒkəˈtj/ (Latin American Spanish: [okoˈtiʝo]), but also referred to as buggywhip, coachwhip, candlewood, slimwood, desert coral, Jacob's staff, Jacob cactus, and vine cactus) is a plant indigenous to the Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert and Colorado Desert in the Southwestern United States (southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), and northern Mexico (as far south as Hidalgo and Guerrero).[3][4]

While semi-succulent and a desert plant, Ocotillo is more closely related to the tea plant and blueberries than to cactuses. 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 partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months.

Individual stems may reach a diameter of 5 cm at the base, and the plant may grow to a height of 10 m (33 ft). The plant branches very heavily at its base, but above that, the branches are pole-like and rarely divide further. Specimens in cultivation may not exhibit any secondary branches. The leaf stalks harden into blunt spines, and new leaves sprout from the base of the spine.

The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.


Distribution of Fouquieria splendens in Mexico and the United States.

Ocotillo occurs in desert regions of southwestern United States through central Mexico. It grows in dry, generally rocky soils.[5]


An ocotillo in spring bloom on Pinyon Wash Road in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Ocotillo can be planted year-round with care. Ideal plants have been grown in pots from stem cuttings and from seed. Transplanting large bare-root plants has marginal success. They should be planted to the original growing depth and, as with cacti, in their original directional orientation: the original south side of the plant, which has become more heat- and sunlight-resistant, should again face the brighter, hotter southern direction. If their direction is not marked, success is again limited.[citation needed]


  • Individual ocotillo stems are sometimes used as poles as a fencing material in their native region, and often take root to form a living fence.
  • Due to their light weight and interesting pattern, ocotillo branches have been used for canes or walking sticks.
  • Fresh flowers are sometimes used in salads and have a tangy flavor.
  • Flowers are collected, dried, and used for tisanes.
  • According to Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West (a book published in 1989 by Museum of New Mexico Press), a fresh bark tincture can be made by chopping or snipping freshly removed bark into 1/2-inch pieces. It is said to be useful for those symptoms that arise due to fluid congestion and to be absorbed from the intestines into the mesenteric lymph system by way of the lacteals of the small intestinal lining. This is believed to stimulate better visceral lymph drainage into the thoracic duct and improve dietary fat absorption into the lymph system.[6]
  • Bathing in water that contains crushed flowers or roots has been used to relieve fatigue.[6]
  • Native Americans place the flowers and roots of ocotillo over fresh wounds to slow bleeding.[6]
  • Ocotillo is also used to alleviate coughing, achy limbs, varicose veins, urinary tract infections, cervical varicosities, and benign prostate growths.[6]


The three subspecies are:

  • F. s. splendens Engelm.
  • F. s. breviflora Hendrickson
  • F. s. campanulata (Nash) Henrickson



  1. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0". explorer.natureserve.org. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  2. ^ The Plant List, Fouquieria splendens Engelm.
  3. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  4. ^ McVaugh, R. 2001. Ochnaceae to Loasaceae. 3: 9–751. In R. McVaugh (ed.) Flora Novo-Galiciana. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  5. ^ Schultheis, Lisa M.; Stone, William J. (2012). "Fouquieria splendens subsp. splendens". Jepson eFlora. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Maya Strunk (Spring 2001 Independent study) at Medicinal Plants of the Southwest

The Splendid Ocotillo, Cornett, J. W., published by Nature Trails Press, 2018.

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