Ocotillo

(Fouquieria splendens)

An Ocotillo in a bed of agave.

Ocotillo is a spotlight specimen at Sunnylands and is planted sparingly throughout the gardens in a few mixed-bed locations. There are no single specimen beds that contain only this plant. Its tall stems with significant spines confuse visitors unfamiliar with Ocotillo. They are often unsure if this is a skeleton of a long gone plant or possibly a dead cactus. Shortly after spring begins, Ocotillo will show their true colors. The spines are an indication of the leafing out that will come after spring rains and are the leftover leaf stem from previous seasons.

The plant produces scarlet blooms during a season that can last until fall. The blooms will appear at the tips of the stalks, attracting migrating hummingbirds and orioles. When the season has ended, the leaves and blooms will drop, but the green of the stalk will allow the Ocotillo to gather nutrients through photosynthesis until the next period of rain.

In the wild, stalks will reach up to 20 feet, but they normally top out at 10 feet in cultivated gardens. Ocotillo is easy to grow with few requirements other than well-drained soil and full sun.

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