Monday is plant day on Taxon of the Day and we head to the desert for the magnificent Ocotillo. Fouquieria splendens Engelm. is a species in the genus Fouquieria in the monotypic family Fouquieriaceae. Indigenous to the Sonoran Desert with a range throughout northern Mexico and south west USA it is a distinctive looking woody, drought tolerant, deciduous plant with thorny, multi wand-like stems. It can quickly grow and shed leaves multiple times in a year depending on the levels of rainfall, but the dense tubular bright red flowers that cluster at the top of each stem, typically appear only in spring and early summer. Plants can grow up to 10m high and stem diameters can reach 5cm at the base. Hummingbirds are the most photogenic pollinators of this plant although insects and other birds service them too.
The genus Fouquieria is named after French physician Pierre Fouquier (1776-1850) and splendens means to shine bright. It is reported that Ocotillo derives from the Nahuatl term (the language of the Mexican indigenous Nahau people) Ocote, meaning "torch" which seems very apt when the plant is in full flower.
The Catalogue of life lists five species in Fouquieria including Fouquieria columnaris aka the famous Boojum tree, although it is widely reported there are up to eleven known species. However, Fouquieria splendens is the only species in the group growing wild outside of Mexico.
CoL Annual Checklist Details page: Fouquieria splendens
CoL contributor: ITIS Regional
Image copyright: R L F Matthias