Ocotillos provide a reliable food source for hummingbirds during their northern migration, all while getting pollinated along the way.
Hiding In Plain Sight
Ocotillos are common to the Sonoran Desert, and are one of the most unique plants in the southwest. Most of the time they appear like dead sticks, and do not draw too much attention. That all changes in the spring when Ocotillos transform into a bright green plant with spectacular red blooms.
Ocotillo is Spanish for Little Torch referring to the bright red flowers that appear at the end of the stems. The photograph above is a classic example of an Ocotillo in bloom. However this is not it's only name, some others include Jacob's Staff, Desert Coral, Candlewood, Vine Cactus, Coachwhip and my personal favorite Flaming Sword.
Many people think of Ocotillos as a cactus but they are actually a thorny shrub. This becomes clear when there is plentiful rainfall and small leaves quickly appear. These leaves provide a quick source of extra food through photosynthesis. During the dry season the leaves disappear as quickly as they came to retain moisture within the plant.
Ocotillos bloom once in the spring to coincide with the Hummingbird migration.
Ocotillos have co-evolved with hummingbirds. If you look very close at the flowers you will see that they are tubular in shape just perfect for a hummingbird's beak.
Ocotillos are perennial plants and have extensive woody roots to gather moisture allowing them to bloom during a dry spring when other desert plants may not. This provides a reliable food source for hummingbirds during their northern migration. In this way the plant and the hummingbird both benefit. The Ocotillos get pollinated while the hummingbirds get much needed fuel for their long trip north.
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