Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Fouquieria splendens


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Matthews, Robin F. 1994. Fouquieria splendens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : FOUSPL SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : FOSP2 COMMON NAMES : ocotillo candlewood Jacob's staff coachwhip cactus TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of ocotillo is Fouquieria splendens Engelm. (Fouquieriaceae) [24,29,43,49,69]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms. LIFE FORM : Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Ocotillo is distributed from the southern tip of Nevada south through the Mohave and Sonoran deserts of California to Arizona and east to the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico and western Texas [16,24,29,47,69]. In Mexico, ocotillo occurs in Baja California Norte, Baja California Sur, , Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Durango, and Sinaloa [21,69]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES30 Desert shrub FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES40 Desert grasslands STATES : AZ CA NV NM TX MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 7 Lower Basin and Range 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K027 Mesquite bosque K031 Oak - juniper woodlands K041 Creosotebush K042 Creosotebush - bursage K043 Paloverde - cactus shrub K044 Creosotebush - tarbush K045 Ceniza shrub K046 Desert: vegetation largely lacking K053 Grama - galleta steppe K054 Grama - tobosa prairie K058 Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna K060 Mesquite savanna K061 Mesquite - acacia savanna K086 Juniper - oak savanna K087 Mesquite - oak savanna SAF COVER TYPES : 66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper 68 Mesquite 235 Cottonwood - willow 241 Western live oak 242 Mesquite SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Ocotillo is a characteristic species of the vegetation of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts [8,23,25,38,49,57,64,66]. In the Sonoran Desert, ocotillo is a dominant member of mixed woody, succulent scrub, creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) scrub, and shrub-grassland associations on well-drained rocky slopes, bajadas, and alluvial fans, often with shallow soils [25,37,57,64,66,71]. Ocotillo is a dominant species in desert scrub, lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) scrub, and yucca (Yucca spp.) woodland vegetation of the Chihuahuan Desert on rocky bajadas, slopes, and ridges [8,23,37,40]. Ocotillo is also prominent in desert grassland and oak woodland habitats at elevations above desert scrub vegetation [1,37,45], and in subtropical thorn scrub or thorn forest communities [7,65,68]. Publications listing ocotillo as a dominant, codominant, or indicator species in vegetation classifications follow: Sonoran desertscrub [66] Natural terrestrial communities of Brewster County, Texas, with special reference to the distribution of the mammals [13] Vegetation and flora of Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona [71] A vegetation classification system applied to southern California [47] Some species commonly associated with ocotillo not mentioned in Distribution and Occurrence include saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), leatherstem (Jatropha spp.), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), range ratany (Krameria parvifolia), Wheeler sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), lechuguilla, ironwood (Olneya tesota), false-mesquite (Calliandra eriophylla), wolfberry (Lycium spp.), agave (Agave spp.), yucca (Yucca spp.), acacia (Acacia spp.), prickly pear and cholla (Opuntia spp.), threeawn (Aristida spp.), and grama (Bouteloua spp.) [5,6,9,23,30,37,45,57,68]. Ocotillo may also be associated with, or in close proximity to, riparian habitats along rivers, floodplains, or desert washes. In these instances ocotillo may occur with narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia), Fremont cottonwood (P. fremontii), boxelder (Acer negundo), Arizona walnut (Juglans major), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), sycamore (Platanus spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.), and blue paloverde (Cercidium floridum) [14,19,41,62].


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Habitats dominated or codominated by ocotillo are important to mule and white-tailed deer in the San Cayetano Mountains in south-central Arizona. White-tailed deer prefer communities which include ocotillo fom February to April. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa)-ocotillo habitat types are indicative of mule deer habitat; 79 percent of observed deer were found in these types during May, June, and July [2,59]. White-tailed deer had a higher volume of ocotillo in their diet in drought years than in nondrought years, whereas mule deer had a higher volume of ocotillo in their diet in nondrought years [1]. Actual ocotillo use by deer in Arizona and New Mexico is considered low (1-5% of rumen contents) [54]. Ocotillo is eaten by desert bighorn sheep in the Harquahala Mountains in Arizona [53]. Ocotillo has no forage value for livestock [26], although cattle and goats have been observed browsing it on floodplains along the Rio Grande [14]. Birds of the Organ Pipe National Monument utilize ocotillo for foraging [46]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Nutrient values (in percent) of ocotillo in samples collected from the Harquahala Mountains, Arizona in 1982 follow [53]: Fiber* Dry matter Protein ADF NDF Lignin Cellulose __________________________________________________________________________ Jan-Feb 27.46 20.50 14.22 12.42 2.60 7.33 Mar-April 13.10 17.20 10.79 22.83 3.40 7.78 May-June 35.33 12.69 11.15 15.90 3.08 8.24 July-Aug 39.24 17.35 13.09 17.68 3.12 9.78 Sep-Oct 30.00 5.91 13.35 15.18 3.21 9.45 *ADF--acid detergent fiber; NDF--nonacid detergent fiber COVER VALUE : When in leaf, ocotillo probably provides cover for birds and small mammals. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES : In the Southwest, ocotillo stems are cut and planted close together to make living fences or walls. Ocotillo makes an excellent ornamental in desert landscaping theme and cactus gardens [22,49,60,69]. The resin and wax from ocotillo bark is used for conditioning leather [34,49,69]. Historically, ocotillo fruits and flowers were eaten by Cahuilla Indians. Roots were powdered by Apache Indians and used to treat wounds and painful swellings. They also bathed in an ocotillo root mixture to relieve fatigue [34,49,69]. A beverage made from ocotillo flowers was used for cough medicine [69]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Ocotillo increased under protection from livestock grazing (0.5 to 2.4% frequency) over a 50-year period at the Carnegie Desert Laboratory in southern Arizona. The vegetation was dominated by Sonoran Desert species such as ocotillo, creosotebush, foothill paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum), and saguaro [4]. Ocotillo produces tannins which may help in its defense against herbivory [75]. The endangered Lucifer hummingbird's habitat in New Mexico centers on slopes and adjacent canyons in arid montane areas dominated by ocotillo and agave species [44]. Ocotillo competes for space with jumping cholla (Opuntia fulgida) in Arizona upland vegetation associations. Its root system may also overlap with that of saguaro, suggesting competition for root space between the two [76]. Removal of grasses by grazing may allow shrubs, including ocotillo, to increase in low desert grasslands [79].


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Ocotillo is a drought-deciduous shrub with 6 to 100 wandlike branches that arise from the root crown. Stems are 9 to 30 feet (2-9 m) tall with spines to 1.5 inches (4 cm) long. Leaves grow to 2 inches (5 cm) long and are thick and leathery. Leaf abscission occurs under water stress so ocotillo appears leafless most of the year, but it quickly refoliates after rain [24,29,43,49,69]. Four or five crops of leaves may be produced annually [33,36]. The leaves mature within a few weeks and are then shed [36,49]. Ocotillo is dormant when leafless and is protected from further water loss by its waterproof bark [36]. The bisexual scarlet flowers are clustered at the stem tips in a panicle and often appear before the leaves in spring. The fruit is a capsule that contains numerous, winged seeds [24,43,49,69]. The root system of ocotillo is shallow with a few laterals branching from the main taproot just below the soil surface [11,36,76]. Taproots penetrated to a depth of 3 to 6 inches (8-15 cm) on adobe clay underlain by caliche on the bajada of Tumamoc Hill near Tucson, Arizona [11]. Ocotillo has the physical capacity to produce leaves without the concurrent movement of nutrients or hormones from the roots, and without addition of exogenous nutrients or hormones. The process is dependent of water availability. Cut ocotillo stems decoupled from root activity began to refoliate within 24 hours after being placed in water, even after months of dry storage. The largest leaves were approximately 1 inch (2.4 cm) long within 8 days. The cut stems did not produce roots [31], although stem cuttings are known to sprout [29,69]. Ocotillo has extrafloral nectaries (nectar-secreting glands) located on the flower buds that may promote mutualistic interactions with insects. Insects gain nutrients and water while ocotillo gains decreased herbivory [48], particularly during the reproductive period RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Ocotillo reproduces by basal sprouting [73,78] and sprouting from stem cuttings [29,69]. Ocotillo flowers produce nectar and are pollinated by hummingbirds and bees. Ocotillo may self pollinate to a limited extent. In southern Arizona flowering coincides with the northward migration of hummingbirds. Seed set per flower is greater for plants flowering during migration than for plants flowering after hummingbirds have migrated [50,72]. Freeman [16] stated that each ocotillo plant produces at most a few hundred highly viable seeds (viability of 90%) per year that are known to germinate after rain. Germination remains relatively high (about 40%) even after 8 days of exposure to temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 deg C) for 12 hours each day. This lack of sensitivity to high temperatures suggests that ocotillo can germinate readily after late summer rains. Ocotillo seeds probably do not survive for long in the soil. Ocotillo probably requires a sequence of favorable conditions to regenerate well, such as heavy winter rain for seed production followed by heavy summer rain for seedling establishment [78]. Shreve [55] reported that ocotillo had low and erratic seedling establishment and a large amount of seedling mortality due to moisture stress. After summer rains extremely high densities of seedlings (more than 100/sq m) were observed, but less than 1 percent of those survived to 1 year of age. Survival from year 1 to 7 was approximately 27 percent. No ocotillo seedlings were found in the months following heavy September rainfall in a desert community in San Diego County, California [78]. The winged seeds of ocotillo are probably wind dispersed. Ocotillo recruitment has a positive significant (p<0.05) association with triangle bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) in desert shrub communities in Arizona [39]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Ocotillo is found on dry, well-drained, rocky slopes, mesas, bajadas, outwash plains, and valleys in desert shrub and desert grassland habitats [8,13,23,26,29,69,71]. Soils are generally rocky, shallow, and of limestone or granitic origin and are often underlain by caliche [26,40,71]. Ocotillo generally occurs from sea level to approximately 5,200 feet (1,600 m) elevation [16,26,72]. It may reach its upper elevational limits 900 to 1,500 feet (270-450 m) higher on limestone than on granitic soils [56]. In the Guadalupe and Del Norte mountains of the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, ocotillo is found on limestone ridgetops, outcrops, and slopes, at elevations as high as 6,700 feet (2,050 m) [10,12,32]. Ocotillo may also occur at higher elevations in oak woodlands above desert grassland communities [37,45]. Aspect is generally south or southeast, where surface temperatures allow daily thawing even with freezing air temperatures above the surface layer [10]. In the Sonoran Desert ocotillo is found from the valley plains to upper bajadas at elevations up to 2,300 feet (700 m). It is probably more abundant on the upper bajadas due to rapid infiltration and thus greater available soil moisture in the coarse rocky upland soils than in the heavy silt loams of the valley plains [70]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Little information is available on the successional status of ocotillo. Seedlings are rarely found on disturbed soils [76] but are found under the canopy of mature plants [39,77]. Zedler [78] stated that ocotillo is a long-lived stable element of desert vegetation with specialized requirements for seed germination that limit its capacity to exploit opportunities for population expansion. Shreve [58] reported that the rate of growth and mortality of ocotillo are high and that its life span probably does not exceed 60 years. Others have observed ocotillo plants that were 72+ years old [20]. Ocotillo persisted on eroded clay beds on a few inches to 1 foot (30 cm) of soil in the early stages of erosion at the Tornilla Clay Beds, Texas [42]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Ocotillo generally flowers from March to June depending on latitude [29,43,49]. In southern Arizona ocotillo produces flowers from March to May and flowering generally lasts 50 to 60 days. Seed drop occurs from May to mid-June [72]. The following phenological pattern was observed in ocotillo on an upper bajada in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico between July 1978 and June 1980 [30]: September-October, 1978 --growth of new leaves October-November, 1978 --leaf abscission April, 1979 --initiation of flower buds April-May, 1979 --flowering May, 1979 --growth of new leaves June-July, 1979 --mature fruits July-August, 1979 --leaf yellowing August-September, 1979 --growth of new leaves October, 1979 --leaf abscission April, 1980 --initiation of flower buds April-May, 1980 --flowering May, 1980 --growth of new leaves June, 1980 --mature fruits


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Ocotillo bark contains resin and wax which allow it to burn easily [69]. Its seeds probably do not survive for long in the soil [78] and seedlings are not known to establish in recently burned areas. Ocotillo does sprout from the root crown following damage from fire, but its sprouting ability is probably dependent on fire severity [73]. Fires that occur when ocotillo is leafless (as it is for much of the year) may be less harmful than those that occur when the plant is actively growing. Fires in general are not prevalent over much of the range of ocotillo. Although desert vegetation rarely burns completely due to a lack of continuous fuels, unusually heavy winter rains may produce a cover of annual species dense enough to carry a fire when cured. Fires resulting from this situation tend to occur at the desert shrub-desert grassland ecotone [28], or in tobosa (Hilaria mutica) or sacaton (Sporobolus spp.) swales [27], which are common habitats for ocotillo. Thomas [63] has estimated that fire frequency in the Sonoran Desert is over 250 years, but has cited references suggesting that fire intervals in adjacent desert grasslands may be as short as 3 to 40 years. During the period of 1973 to 1979, 210 fires burned in the Lower Colorado and Arizona Upland subdivisions of the Sonoran Desert [52]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Ocotillo is at least top-killed by most fires but survival is related to fire severity. Ocotillo is considered moderately sensitive to fire [73,74]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Ocotillo was severely reduced following a wildfire in June, 1963, near Sasabe, Arizona. The desert grassland vegetation consisted of ocotillo, mesquite (Prosopis spp.), Mexican blue oak (Quercus oblongifolia), Wheeler sotol, beargrass (Nolina microcarpa), velvetpod mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa), bullgrass (Muhlenbergia emersleyi), and grama. Plants whose crowns were charred or completely consumed were classed as severely damaged. Damage was moderate when only portions of a plant were burned. Plants at the edge of the burn that were only scorched were classed as lightly damaged. By postfire year 2, the proportion of ocotillo plants refoliating or sprouting after fire was 33 percent in the severe damage class, 60 percent in the moderate damage class, and 50 percent in the light damage class. The differences were not tested for statistical significance. Sprouting after the fire was confined to the base for moderately and severely burned ocotillo that survived, but some lightly damaged plants also refoliated original branches [73,74]. No ocotillo sprouts or seedlings were observed within 3 years following a June wildfire near Phoenix, Arizona, although ocotillo was present in the prefire desert shrub community dominated by creostotebush, triangle bursage, foothill paloverde, and acacia (Acacia spp.) [52]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Humphrey [26,27] suggested that the invasion of woody species (such as ocotillo) into desert grasslands can be reversed or controlled by burning at 5- to 10-year intervals.


SPECIES: Fouquieria splendens
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