Jul 5, 200602:38 PMThe Life
Desert flora: ocotillo
Jul 5, 2006 - 02:38 PMThe ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) shrub is often mistaken for a cactus because of its sharp spines. Mature plants have as many as 75 slender cane branches, which can grow to a height of up to 30 feet. [Click thumbnail photo for larger image.]
Ocotillos are leafless for most of the year, except immediately after rain. The leaves sprout in 3 days or so, then quickly wither and fall off when the soil dries out. Depending on the amount and number of rains, ocotillos may gain and lose their leaves 3 or more times annually.
The plants produce bright red flower spikes at the ends of their branches March through June or later, depending on rainfall. Hummingbirds rely heavily on the nectar of ocotillo flowers to sustain them during their annual migration northwards from Mexico to the mountains of the western U.S.
Ocotillo plants that live past their second year have a good chance of surviving up to two centuries.