OCOTILLO, pronounced as O-CO-TIL-LO is a desert plant from the FOUQUIERIACEAE family. It’s scientific name is FOUQUIERIA SPLENDENS and are fondly called by different names such as candlewood, slimwood, coachwhip, vine cactus, flaming sword, and Jacob’s staff.
These plants are one of the easiest to identify in the desert. They are a large shrub with long stiff and upright unbranched prickly stems that grow extending upwards from a short trunk. Small 2 inch leaves will grow from the stems when there is enough moisture. Dense clusters of red pipe-like flowers grow from the end of the stems from March through June.
An Ocotillo can grow moderately vigorous to 15 ft. It can also reach 20 ft. with supplemental water. An Ocotillo can live a good estimate of 60 years although some studies indicate they can live well over 100 years. This shrub is well adapted to the Phoenix heat. It grows in full sun and is best grown on fast drained soil that is found on rocky slopes in a native habitat. They are very drought tolerant. Supplemental landscape irrigation will increase growth and vigor.
Usually pruning is not required, removal of stems to ground. These plants are dug and transplanted easily. They propagate by cutting using large stem sections and/or using their seed. If drainage is poor these shrubs can suffer root rot. The Ocotillo plant can be mildly toxic to dogs or pets. Fortunately, the signs are really only intestinal in origin and you might see an upset stomach, mild decrease in appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. The bark of the Ocotillo plant is actually used in some herbal products that treat diseases in cats and dogs.
One interesting fact about the plant is that back in 1927, a Tuscan florist made a life-size replica of a plane out of Ocotillo! It was made by Hal Burns to resemble Charles A. Linderbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, as a way to welcome the pilot to Tucson.