Native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae) can be found from California to Texas and in adjacent areas of Mexico. These rather unique organisms make up one of only eleven species in their entire family. Throughout most of the year these cold- and drought-deciduous plants appear as little more than bundles of dried-up sticks covered in formidable spines. They not only look nasty, they’re also not much fun to stumble into or even brush up against.
Ocotillo can survive long periods of dry conditions but take full advantage of what meager water they do receive. During brief episodes of rain in spring and summer they burst forth with short green leaves and bright red flowers. The large, beautiful clusters of flowers attract hummingbirds and bees that aid in pollination.
Not long after the soil dries out, however, ocotillo drop their leaves, go to seed, and return to their dried-up, dormant state. Although they’re relatively unattractive most of the time they’re still planted as ornamentals in the southwest. The brief but spectacular shows of red and green provide rare treats of color in otherwise dry and dusty landscapes.