October 2020 EcoQuest: Ocotillober

Join us for the October EcoQuest: Ocotillober (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yoh-bur).
Find and map as many ocotillos as possible, especially in dense urban areas.

One of the most charismatic plants of the southwest, ocotillos stand tall among the saguaros in the desert landscape, reaching their long canes to the sky. Ocotillos are not only found in wilderness, but in urban areas making a statement wherever they are planted.

Join the EcoQuest here:
See this plant on SEINet:

This EcoQuest is focused on ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Ocotillos (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yohs) are said to look like a bunch of dead sticks standing upright. The stems or canes have no leaves or flowers most of the time, showing only spines. With a decent amount of rain, they become covered with lively green leaves from bottom to top. When conditions become dry again, the plant can quickly shed its leaves to retain water. This can happen multiple times a year. When they are leafless, ocotillos can photosynthesize through their bark, much like palo verde trees (Parkinsonia spp.). In the spring, clusters of bright reddish-orange flowers balance at the very tops of the stems, which may be where the common name “torchwood” comes from. These flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds during their northern migration when other nectar sources are scarce. Ocotillos can also have a relationship with carpenter bees. The bees help with pollination, as well as increasing fruit and seed set while receiving nectar in return.

Fun Fact: There have been studies to see if the age of ocotillos can be determined by the number of rings in their trunk, much like trees. One study found it to be pretty close! 104 years was estimated through direct evidence (like photographs) and 107 rings were counted.

As charismatic as this plant may be, it can be overlooked. This is possibly because of their seeming abundance or their availability as landscape plants. Whatever the reason may be, data and information on these plants is lacking in metro Phoenix, especially in dense urban areas (Please see maps below).

Observing and mapping ocotillo in metro Phoenix can provide information about occurrences, population size and density. This data is lacking both in iNaturalist and SEINet, specifically in dense urban areas. This observation data can help explore possible pollinator corridors and nectar resources, especially for hummingbirds and carpenter bees.

Scientific Name: (Fouquieria splendens)
Common Names: Ocotillo, torchwood, coachwhip,
Spanish: Ocotillo (little torch)
Seri: Jomjéeziz or xomjéeziz
Family: Fouquieriaceae (Ocotillo Family)

Duration: Perennial
Nativity: Native Lifeform: Shrub
General: Tall, many-stemmed shrublike plant, 2-7 m tall; stems unbranched and cane-like, erect to ascending, covered with thorns; bark gray with darker furrows.
Leaves: Appearing within days after ground-soaking rains and turning yellow and dropping in response to drought; blades fleshy, ovate, 1-3 cm long.
Flowers: Orange, in dense panicles, 10-25 cm long, at branch tips, with conspicuous leafy bracts that fall off when flowers are mature; corolla tubular, about 2 cm long, bright red-orange, with 5 reflexed lobes at the top.
Fruits: Capsule 10-15 mm long, 3-valved; containing 6-15 flat, papery-winged seeds.
Ecology: Found on dry, rocky or gravelly slopes and sandy plains from sea level to 5,000 ft (0-1524 m); flowers February-March.
Distribution: s CA, AZ, s NM, s TX; south to c MEX.
Ethnobotany: Blossoms soaked for a summer drink, a blood purifier and tonic. Seeds parched and ground into flour for mush or cakes. O’odham press the nectar out of blossoms, hardened it like rock candy and chewed. Flowers sucked for nectar. Stems used for fences and houses. Apache make a powdered root paste to ease swelling. Gum from the bark was used to wax leather.

Anywhere within the project boundary, with a preference for dense urban areas where data is lacking. The dots on these maps are existing observations of ocotillo. Observations made anywhere there is not currently a group of observations are the most helpful!


Peter Evans Scott (Louisiana State University):

Keith T. Killingbeth (Ocotillo age study)

EcoQuests are month-long challenges that are part of the larger Metro Phoenix EcoFlora project.
You can learn more and join the Metro Phoenix EcoFlora here:

Sign up for the newsletter at ecofloraphx@dbg.org.
Let's be social @ecofloraphx

PLEASE observe COVID-19 guidelines/recommendations.
This a great opportunity to get outdoors close to home as we all navigate the complications of COVID-19. However, it is imperative that you follow the guidelines/recommendations of your local governments and institutions (wear a mask, practice physical distancing and wash your hands). Do what’s best for you and your community.

Arizona Office of Tourism: Responsible Recreation in AZ

Please do not observe indoor houseplants or pets.
For your own safety and the protection of plants and wildlife, do not trespass when making observations. Please follow all posted rules and guidelines in parks/preserves and do not enter private property.
Do not remove or move natural materials (plants, animals, rocks).
Respect wildlife (do not touch, feed, or disturb animals and keep a safe distance).

Publicado por jenydavis jenydavis, 30 de septiembre de 2020


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