Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) Care Sheet:
Fouquieria splendens is one of eleven species in the ocotillo family (Fouquieriaceae). It is the only one native to the southwest of our country, extending into Baja, the Chihuahuan desert and into central Mexico. It is one of five from the Sonoran desert; those being F. macdougalii from Sonora, F. burragei (white flower), F. diguetii, and F. columnaris (boojum) from Baja.
The other species in the family are F. shrevei from Chihuahua, F. ochoterenae, F. leonilae, F. formosa, F. fasciculata, and F. purpusii from southern Mexico. All but F. splendens F. columnaris and F. shrevei and maybe F. fasciculata need cold protection below 30°F. Our native ocotillo can take temperatures to at least 0°F.
Ocotillo is considered a semi succulent plant that will drop its leaves with drought, only to releaf within days after the next rain, which could be months away. The red-orange flowers are produced in late winter and early spring and are visited by bees and other insects and birds, especially hummingbirds. Usually within weeks after flowering, the seed is ripe, with each mature plant producing thousands of small, winged white seeds. The seed is blown out of the open capsules by the first available wind, waiting for the first monsoon storm to germinate.
Ocotillos are a popular landscape plant and up till now, most plants that have been available have been dug out of the desert, mostly from Texas and Mexico. Besides other ecological problems, the hummingbird migration in southern Texas and Mexico is being affected by the wholesale removal of ocotillos for landscape use here in Arizona, Nevada and southern California. A large percentage of these dug-up plants die, usually after one to two years of struggling to re-root.
Seed grown plants have a better chance of survival because the root system is not disturbed in the growing and planting process. Ocotillos can be fast growers reaching up to 18″ in height in one year from seed if watered properly. Three year old plants can be four feet tall with 4 to 6 branches. During a good monsoon season, ocotillos will grow one foot per branch! With proper care, seed grown ocotillos are not slow plants and will survive quite nicely once the water is turned off.