The Magic Ocotillo

Ocotillo (Oh-koh-TEE-oh) is a desert plant. It’s adaptable and visually interesting. It looks like a bunch of thorny sticks stuck in the ground. In the summer, it drops its leaves.


When it rains or the weather is mild, it develops leaves.


In the Spring, it blooms with extravagant orange-red flowers. (Can’t resist the close-up below).


Here is what amazes me about these plants–when it rains, they grow leaves—fast. In hours. I have an ocotillo in my front yard. We are in the Monsoon right now, and this afternoon and evening we had huge rainstorms. Below is my ocotillo one hour after the rain started. You can see the big thorns and some tiny leaves developing.


An hour later, it looked like the photo below. The leaves are a lot bigger.


And this evening, about two hours after the rain started, the leaves has become full size. It’s sort of like an instant, fast-motion chia pet.


The leaves will stay and absorb water from the atmosphere as long as it stays humid. Once the humidity drops, so will the leaves. This happens as fast as they developed.

When I look at the ocotillo I think of characteristics I’d like to borrow: adaptable, resilient, OK with change, thriving under challenging conditions, sturdy, grounded and amazing. So the next Inner Hero I want to add is Ocotillo.

—Quinn McDonald has no trouble finding Inner Heroes wherever they show up.


17 thoughts on “The Magic Ocotillo

    • Because I live in the desert, the idea of thorns is not more dangerous-seeming to me than the edge of a knife is to a chef. Cacti develop thorns to protect themselves from injury. (Getting eaten or knocked into by elk or drilled into by birds–of course, the Saguaro is drilled into by birds and survives). Birds here sit on cacti with no damage to their feet. What I love about the Ocotillo is the beautiful pattern that is made complete by the thorn. So, the thorns stay, because when you are careful, the thorns prove no threat. But you have to stay aware. That sounds good to me.

  1. There is a wonderful children’s story book about imagination and free play called “Roxaboxen” which has ocotillo prominently displayed – and used – in it. Author is Alice McLerran.
    ISBN 0-688-07592-4 Copyright 1991. Based on true events in Yuma, AZ.

  2. Simply beautiful. Those thorns look like they would be very painful, but those wonderful leaves are growing in the nook created by the thorn, the perfect protection for the delicate leaves. Love your photos and learning more about this beautiful desert plant.

  3. I too love the Ocotillo. They are so versatile as well. In the original building at the “Westward Look” resort, the ceiling in the lodge area is made of ocotillo branches. They are very old and yet have stood the test of time rather well. This year was the first time I ever saw them flower when I was out and about hiking. What a treat.

    • Ocotillo sticks were used as the first barbed wire fence by the Tohono O’odham. At the Desert Botanical Garden, they have an example. A few of the sticks have taken root. It always makes me laugh when I see it.

  4. The ocotillo is my favorite desert plant…..I lived in Tucson for about 17 years and now that I am back in the NW I am finding that I miss the desert plants. They are really a metaphor for life……..thorns and spines…….then beautiful flowers in electric colors……and they grow and show their beautiful flowers with little or no help from us! A wonderful gift……

  5. A couple of days ago I read this: “We´re not afraid of change but afraid of what we co-create…. ” I think this is because we´re not fully aware of what we and our soul wishes….. a journey to the heart….

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