Fouquieria splendens

Taxonomy: Magnoliopsida (dicot); Fouquieriaceae; F. splendens

Common names: Ocotillo, Candlewood, Couchwhip

By: Maya Strunk (Spring 2001 Independent study)



 There is little chance of mistaking the Ocotillo, since most of the year it is a 6-20 foot tall mass of viciously spiked stems radiating from a central, shallow root system. To stand in a field of these spiny whipped plants would be nothing short of a nightmare. Although this plant looks very much like a cactus due to its long spines and desert habitat, it is not a member of the cactus family (Cactaceae). In the Spring (April/May) they bloom hundreds of brilliant red tubular flowers crowding the ends of the branches (Moore 1989). After spring or summer rains, the branches burst with leaves; the rest of the year, photosynthesis occurs beneath the lacquery grey bark of the stems (Moore 1989).


 Ocotillo is found in all the deserts of the Southwest, from sea level (Imperial Valley, California) to over 5,000 ft. (central New Mexico). It is found in great abundance around the edges of desert valleys, on rocky hillsides, bajadas, and mesa tops (Moore 1989).

Medicinal uses:

A fresh bark tincture is the only practical way to prepare ocotillo. This can be done by chopping or snipping freshly removed bark into 1/2 inch pieces. The tincture can be taken in a little warm water every 3-4 hours, usually in doses of 25-35 drops. It is useful for those symptoms that arise due to fluid congestion. It is absorbed from the intestines into the mesenteric lymph system by way of the lacteals of the small intestinal lining. This stimulates better visceral lymph drainage into the thoracic duct and improves dietary fat absorption into the lymph system (Moore 1989). Other uses include the relief of fatigue by bathing in water which contains crushed flowers or roots. Many Indian tribes report that the flowers and roots of ocotillo are commonly placed over fresh wounds to slow bleeding. Ocotillo is also used to alleviate coughing, achy limbs, varicose veins, urinary tract infections, cervical varicosities and benign prostate growths (Moore 1989).


1. Moore, Michael. (1989) Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. p. 81-83 Published by Museum of New Mexico Press.

2. Epple, Anne (1995) A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. p. 60 Published by Falcon Press