Ocotillo plant

Above: An Ocotillo. Photograph Courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria Splendens)

In the spring, hummingbirds migrating north across the New Mexico deserts zero in on this beautiful but bizarre plant. Spring rains trigger its clusters of often dead-looking, 5- to 15-foot stems to burst into life with tiny leaves and flamboyant orange flowers rich in nectar. Like rosebushes, this iconic plant of the Southwest  is protected by its wicked spines. Traditionally, the pole-like stems were used in home construction and planted as living-barrier fences. The flowers, which appear for as few as two months, were added to water for a sweet drink. Ocotillo’s heritage as a home landscape plant dates back to pueblos 1,000 years ago.