The Desert Ocotillo Plant is Surreal and Sublime

My college years are long past me now, but I remember being perpetually buried in reading and writing assignments. I studied English, which came with the territory, but I would throw in a few easier classes here and there to break up the workload.

I gravitated toward art history classes, mostly. I found it very relaxing to sit in an auditorium with the lights out, look at beautiful pieces of artwork on a screen, and jot down notes. It was a nice reprise from the rigors of my regular studies.

Those art classes are where I first heard the word “Dadaism” and laughed at how funny it sounded. They are where I developed an appreciation for Impressionist art. They are where I fell in love with Frida Kahlo’s works and was struck by the hardships she faced in life.

I also remember how Surrealism fascinated me — like Salvador Dali’s melting clocks and Yves Tanguy’s landscapes.

Perhaps that is why I am always captivated by the Ocotillo plant with its crazy, thorny, surreal-looking stems reaching for the sky.

Surreal is precisely how I would describe the Ocotillo — drape a melting clock on one of its spiny stems or paint it onto a dreamlike landscape, and it would fit right in. The Ocotillo’s tall, thorn-riddled stems rise from the desert in a twisted, jagged, crazy fashion. And from March through June, red, flame-like flowers adorn them.

Sometimes the Ocotillo stems point upwards, and other times they bend over to create unique archways, as shown below.

The Ocotillo, or Fouquieria splendens, to me is living art — nature’s surrealist desert art. Not surprisingly, the Ocotillo inspires artists from around the world. Search for Ocotillo art on Google Images, and you’ll find plenty of examples.

Ocotillo can grow up to 20 feet tall, and they generally live about 60 years. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, some studies have found that Ocotillo can live over 100 years. They are found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts (in the Southwestern United States — California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas — and in northern Mexico).

Fun Facts About Ocotillo, courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Ocotillo stems have been used as fencing material or for canes/walking sticks.
  • The plant’s flowers have a tangy flavor and can be used in salads.
  • Ocotillo has medicinal value for all sorts of ailments.
  • Bathing in water that contains the Ocotillo’s crushed flowers or roots is known to relieve fatigue.
  • Native Americans used the flower and roots to slow the bleeding of fresh wounds.

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