Fouquieria splendens

Accession Count: 120
Common Name: Ocotillo
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Family Name: Fouquieriaceae
Botanical Name: Fouquieria splendens
Sub Species:
Variety:
Forma:
Cultivar:
Characteristics:
Ocotillo is a drought-deciduous large shrub that grows to 20 feet tall and half as wide (1-4). It produces many twisted, whip-like, waxy stems from the base with few branches (3, 4). Small (2”) oval to obovate leaves grow bundled around the stem in an alternate and helical pattern in response to precipitation (3, 4). The leaves take 2-3 weeks to mature before they abscise, leaving the remains of the petiole (leaf stalk) to harden into a blunt ½” to 1” spine (3). Leaves will appear 4 – 5 times each year from buds housed under the bark at the base of the spine (3). The loss of leaves during dry periods and the waxy coating on the stem both contribute the plants ability to conserve water (3, 4). Flower buds produce nectar glands that attract hummingbird pollinators and bright orange-red tubular flowers are borne on panicles at the tip of the stems before leaves appear in the spring (3, 4). When pollinated, flowers bear capsules that release many winged seeds (3). The plant also produces a thick tap root that can penetrate caliche and anchor the plant, along with several lateral branches that grow close to the surface of the soil to take advantage of any precipitation available (3).
Compound: Fou spl
Geographic Origin: Southern Arizona, Mexico
Ecozone Origin: Nearctic
Biome Origin: SW
Natural History: F. splendens is native to Southern Arizona and Northwestern Mexico. It is listed as "salvage restricted" under the Arizona Native Plant Law but is widely used as a landscape ornamental plant from western Texas to southern California and southward into Mexico (1, 2).
Cultivation Notes:
Ocotillo produces seed that remain highly viable (>90%) within a week of dispersal even if temperatures on the soil surface exceed 100F though seed viability is reduced quickly with age (3). Seed production is greatest after heavy winter rains but is usually asynchronous (sporadic) throughout the spring (3). Ocotillo can also be propagated from stem cuttings which root easily (3). This species is adapted to grow in full sun on dry, well-drained, rocky slopes with shallow alkaline soils and heavy caliche (3). Southeast exposure is most common in nature as this situation provides tender young plants access to morning sun allowing them to warm up after night time freezes (3).
Ethnobotany: Ocotillo is an outstanding landscape ornament as an accent plant or as a living fence / hedge when planted in rows (1, 3). The waxy resin coating the stems can be extracted and used as a leather conditioner (3). The Cahuilla people not only ate the fruit and the flowers but also made a medicine to treat cough from the flowers and ground dried roots for use in a bathing solution to treat fatiqued muscles (3). Likewise, Apache dried and ground the roots to treat wounds and reduce inflammation (3).

Height: 16 - 20 feet
Width: 11 - 15 feet
Growth Rate: Slow Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Red
Function: Screen
Spread: Non-spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Hardy
Water Use: Low water Use

Citations:
  1. Duffield, Mary Rose., and Warren D. Jones. Plants For Dry Climates - How To Select, Grow And Enjoy. Lane Publishing Company, 1992.
  2. britannica.com
  3. Arizona Forest Service Fact Sheet  https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/fouspl/all.html    Accessed Nov. 2018
  4. Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheet  http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=509  Accessed Nov. 2018
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Fouquieria splendens