Monday, April 16, 2012

Binomen Art - Fouquieria splendens

Binomen Art - Fouquieria splendensBinomen Art - Fouquieria splendens - the plant
While most people are hanging out on the strip while in Las Vegas, Travelmarx is hanging in and around Henderson, southeast of Las Vegas at La Nonna’s house. At the edge of her yard there is this huge ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens. What a striking plant. F. splendens, known as ocotillo, desert coral, coachwhip and other imaginative names is not a cactus although it grows alongside them. F. splendens is native to the Sonoran Desert, growing in open, rocky areas. They are easy to spot because they grow moderately large (up to 30 feet) and almost always have a pleasing and distinctive vase shape to them. The plant does have true leaves (hence it is not a cactus) but from a distance it’s all about those branches (which sometimes look like arms) and the clusters of brightly colored flowers.

The genus name Fouquieria honors the French physician Pierre Fouquier (1776 - 1850). The species epithet splendens is named, well, because it is splendid! The interesting question is where the common name, ocotillo, comes from. According to Merriam Webster the origin of ocotillo is from the “Mexican Spanish, diminutive of ocote, a resinous pine tree (Pinus montezuma), from Nahuatl ocotl pine, torch made of pine. First known use: 1856.” So, taking a guess, the common name likely refers to the brightly colored flowers that resemble a lit torch.

In these photos of binomen art, we dismantled one flower cluster to spell out the name. We tried first with old twigs but the wind kept blowing the letters away. (Apparently the fresh flowers can be used in salads and have a tangy flavor. We did not try them!)

The Work Wall (left) and the Ocotillo Inflorescence – Panicle (right)
Binomen Art - Fouquieria splendens

Ocotillo Inflorescence on a Branch (left) and a Branch Close Up (right)Ocotillo Inflorescence Ocotillo Branch Up Close

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