Fouquieria (2007)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (June 2007)

The family Fouquieriaceae, the Ocotillo family, has one genus: Fouquieria. Included in the genus are a dozen species that include some of the most wonderfully bizarre plants in North America. These stem succulent and semisucculent trees are native to hot regions of the southwestern United States, Mexico and Baja California. All are drought-deciduous. In habitat, most are summer growers. Species from Baja California are winter growers.

The most famous of these is the Boojum Tree, Fouquieria columnaris, named for the mysterious plant in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark.” Known to be difficult in captivity, F. columnaris occurs on the west coast of Baja California, where winter rains, spring and fall fog, and high humidity create a habitat that is difficult to reproduce here in St. Louis.

Building a collection of fouquierias is a challenge. Large specimens are difficult to find and expensive. The very popular Fouquieria fasciculata and F. purpusii are CITES I plants. Fouquieria columnaris is a CITES II plant. As these plants cannot be imported, mature specimens can only be obtained from other collections. Fortunately, most species can be reproduced from stem cuttings. Currently, Arid Lands has an impressive variety of smaller plants for sale at

These plants are very sensitive to attacks by mites that can defoliate a plant in a few days. Monitor fouquierias very carefully in the winter, when warm and dry house conditions make mites very happy.

If the appearance of fouquierias appeals to you, you will undoubtedly also enjoy the Didiereaceae from Madagascar. Similar in form and habit to Fouquieriaceae, the didies have succulent leaves and are related to the Cactaceae. Fouquieriaceae are not at all related to cacti or the didies. The similarity between the two families is an excellent example of convergent evolution, where plants in similar habitats display similar traits and features.