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October Plant of the Month - Fouquieria splendens, the Ocotillo

I’ve driven, boated, and hiked through the Mojave and Sonoran deserts hundreds of times over the past 20 years, particularly to spend time at our second home in Lake Havasu City, AZ. As you may imagine, the flat desert scenery begins to look familiar and monotonous, especially in the extreme heat of the summer. From the road, things appear flat and dry, never changing. Miles and miles of brittlebush, creosote, and an occasional cactus. There is something however, that always catches my eye. Something that commands attention in the desert scenery - the beautiful and stately Ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens. It towers above the landscape with spires of gray or green, depending on how recently it had rained. To me, they are so beautiful in the way they grow; their adaptation to extreme heat and scarce water, and the flowers that appear in spring, making each stem look like a torch.

And so I made an effort to observe them, making mental notes of where they tend to grow, their relative size, when they bloom, etc.. I also bought a couple of bare root plants for my own desert garden, of which a couple have already died. I will try again as I have dreams of an ocotillo forest at my house, but first I need to completely understand these plants.

My talk will include information that I’ve obtained during research, and my personal knowledge and experience with ocotillos. They are not common in San Diego landscapes but given the right care, they can be beautiful additions to your drought tolerant/succulent garden.


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