This year’s springtime trip to the corridor from Tucson (Arizona) to California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park gave me an opportunity to reacquaint with Fouquieria splendens, or ocotillo. Although the plants had leafed-out, few if any were in flower so my traveling companions and I ended up chasing the wonderful wildflower display. Perhaps I took a few token photographs. When encountering it yet again in October, I couldn’t ignore this display in the foothills east of San Pablo Toliman, México,.
In my previous experiences, I don’t recall seeing the species either in such a density or inhabiting a slope. The combination of the two mixed in with mid-morning light to backlight the foliage, was a “stop the car!” moment–an unscheduled pause on our long travel day between San Miguel de Allende and Xilitla. Again, however, I missed out on the flowers. One tries not to think about the potential photographic opportunity that would have occurred a few weeks later, with the plants in bloom combined with the first light striking the plants in the morning. Here is a photograph of the inflorescence from a previous BPotD: Fouquieria splendens; these clusters of flowers would have topped the ends of the stems.
Other names for ocotillo include candlewood, slimwood, coachwhip, vine cactus, flaming sword and Jacob’s staff. Candlewood and slimwood are in reference to the slender, waxy stems. Repeating what I wrote in the earlier entries on ocotillo, this species is drought-deciduous. After seasonal rains have occurred, it leafs out and grows until water becomes scarce once again. It then drops its leaves until the next episode of water. This may happen several times in a year, correlated with an area’s rainfall patterns. During droughty periods, plants appear as a cluster of upright, prickly sticks, an effect you can see in some photos on the CalPhotos site: Fouquieria splendens.
I haven’t identified the plants growing among the ocotillo in today’s photograph. The larger cacti may be Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which I know occurs elsewhere in the region. However, most photos (and my few observations of it) suggest it should have shorter stem columns between branching nodes (i.e., an overall more compact appearance), so it may be something else.