Ocotillos spend much of their time looking like giant dead rosebushes, but
they’re just biding their time. Given some moisture, they sprout large numbers of
tiny leaves and beautiful stark red flowers. They are native to the Mojave and
Colorado deserts, the southwestern US, Baja California, and Sonora Mexico, at
elevations below 5000' (1.5 km).
Ocotillos have near doppelgängers called Madagascar ocotillo.
These closely similar plants are an example of convergent evolution, where unrelated plants sometimes
evolve to fill identical ecological niches in different locations. But you won’t confuse them, since, as you have
probably guessed, Madagascar ocotillo grows only in Madagascar.
Identification: Ocotillo (pronounced awk-oh-TEE-oh)
is a collection of tall, thin, unbranched stalks up to 20' (6.1 m) high, facing mostly upward but sometimes looking
bowed as if bowing to the wind. The branches have thorns about ½-1" (1.3-2.5 cm) long, and sometimes
have tiny leaves. Flowers, in clusters about 10" (25 cm) long, and fruits appear near the top. Ocotillo’s size and shape is unmistakable.
It is found in association with mesquite, creosotebush, paloverde, and ceniza.