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 Official Name: Fouquieria splendens

 Family: Fouquieriaceae

(There are 11 species of the Fouquieris genus)

Names: Candlewood, Candlewhip,

Flamimgsword, Jacobís Staff, Slimwood, and Vine cactus (13). 

Height: 6-20 feet tall

 Flower: Fiery reddish-orange, blooms in April or May

 Sun Exposure: Prefers full sun

 Water Usage: Rainfall and condensation.

 Habitat: The deserts of southern California, New Mexico, and extends as far as Texas. Ocotillo prefers an elevation of 5000 ft. above sea level. It grows best in areas where there is limestone, rocky hillsides, and sandy plains (14).

 Estimated Life Span: 60 years, few plants

have lived  past 72 years (13).

By: Natalie Martinez, Vanessa Provencio, and Cynthia Jimenez

           Summer 2002

Medicinal Uses    Non-medicinal Uses   Distinctive Traits   Root System   Chemical Constituents   Germination   Preparation   Work Cited

Medicinal Uses:

A tincture made of fresh bark is useful for eliminating symptoms associated with inflammation of the pelvic region.  Ocotillo can also be effective in alleviating hemorrhoids, benign prostate enlargements, and cervical varicosities (9).  The Cahuilla Indians prepared Ocotillo root in a tea to treat a harsh, moist cough observed in the elderly. The Apache Indians often used the reddish orange blossom, fresh or dried in a tea, which aided in the relief of soar and swollen muscles.  The seeds and flowers were also eaten raw in various dishes(Krochmal, 1954).

Non-medicinal Uses:

The resin and wax collected from the bark is often used to condition leather (11). These lengthy stems of Ocotillo are also used as fence posts, if watered frequently they can re-root themselves and become a living fence post.  Dried stems of the ocotillo can be used as a regular fence by layering them on top of one another and tying them together (10).

Distinctive Traits:

One distinctive trait of the Ocotillo is the woody spins that cover the length of the stems. These spines begin as leaves that flourish as soon as 48 hours after a rain period. These leaves are responsible for the majority of the plants photosynthesis. As the season becomes arid, the leaves senesce and leave behind the petiole. The petiole then begins to harden and becomes the thorns that aid the plant in protection from predators. Once the leaves have all fallen off, the waxy stems now perform the synthesis of sugars needed underneath the bark (15). This desert giant also produces tannins in its defense against herbivory (Vines, 1960). There are no known desert creatures that rely on Ocotillo for their primary food source. However, caterpillars, ants, and ground squirrels eat the flowers (8).

Root System:

The Ocotillo root system is primarily taproot with lateral branching. In areas of Arizona, Ocotillo is usually in competition with the cholla and saguaro cactus for root space(12). The roots are also susceptible to diseases such as root rot and powdery mildew accumulation (Krochmal,1954). Even with these factors hindering the growth of Ocotillo, this desert giant usually dies due to shallow root systems, wind, and erosion. This plant eventually becomes top heavy and becomes up-rooted (Yeaton, 1970).

Chemical Constituents:

Bark: Adoxoside, fouquierol,    isofouquierol, Ocotillol

Leaf: 6-beta-hydroxy splendoside, 7-beta-hydroxy splendoside, galioside, isoquercetin, rutin, splendoside.

Leaf & Bark: Asperocotillin, asperuloside, caffeic acid, kaempferol, leucocyanidin, p-coumaric acid, ellagic acid, quercetin, scopoletin.

Root: Dammarendiol.

Flower: Eicosene, pentaacetate,        quercetin,

sitosterol, tetraeicosane.

( All constituents from citation (9)



The seedlings of the Ocotillo drop between May and mid-June and are dispersed by means of the wind. Seed viability is 90% but decreases to 40% due to moisture stress. The flowers of the Ocotillo, which harness the seeds; remain in bloom for 50-60 days. The pollination of Ocotillo relies heavily on migrating hummingbirds from Mexico, northward toward western mountain ranges. Other than hummingbirds, bees also play a role in pollination (Waser, 1977).


In order to make a tincture the following things will be neededÖ


Dried or fresh plant material.

1 Mason jar, or a jar that is similar in size.

80-100 proof vodka or rum. For non-alcoholic tinctures distilled water, glycerol,   or vinegar, can be used.

Unbleached cheesecloth.

Proper labels.

 Now you can begin by placing your herbs into a mason jar and slowly pouring the alcohol over the herbs.  Seal the jar and place it in a dark area. Itís important to remember to shake the jar everyday. The time for each tincture is different but averages from about 6 weeks to a few months. Once the tincture is ready, pour the mixture through the cheesecloth onto your selected bottle. Make sure to squeeze any remaining fluid from herbs. Seal the container and label to avoid any confusion later.  If stored properly a tincture can last up to two years (7)


 1.  Goldberg, Deborah E., Turner, Raymond M., 1986. Vegetation change and plant demography in permanent plots in the Sonoran desert. Ecology. 67 (3): 695-712

 2. Krochmal A.; Paul, S.; Duisberg, P. 1954. Useful native plants in the American Southwestern deserts. Economic Botany. 8:   3-20.

 3.Levin, Geoffrey A., 1988. How plants survive in the desert. Environment Southwest Summer.   P. 20-25.

 4.Vines, Robert A., 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the Southwest.

   Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 1104 p.

 5.Waser, Nickolas M. 1979. Pollinator availability as a determinant of flowering time in Ocotillo. (FS) Oecologia. 39 (1): 107-121

 6.Yeaton, Michael I., Travis, J., Gilinsky, Ellen. 1977, Competition and spacing in plant communities: The Arizona Upland Association. Journal of Ecology. 65: 587-595.

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Updated February 13, 2008

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