Native to the Mojave and Colorado deserts west of Texas and south to New Mexico, the ocotillo is an inspiring site to behold. Many stiff, whip-like gray stems 8 - 25 feet high, heavily covered with stout thorns make this an immediate eye catcher. Fleshy, roundish leaves, 1/2 - 1 in long leaves appear after rains and then soon drop. Tubular 3/4 - 1 in. long red flowers in attractive foot long clusters appear after heavy spring or summer rains. In Las Cruces the flowers appear in the spring. This spring they were spectacular. The plant looks like it has huge red butterflies setting atop each stem.
This particular plant is in an urban setting and has more branches than most, but it was stunning. The first time I saw an ocotillo I just knew I wanted to have one. No leaves, no flowers, it was just an interesting plant from a distance. On closer inspection I noticed the stout thorns and changed my mind. I know have the pleasure of enjoying them in landscapes knowing that I will never have to handle those thorns.
Ocotillo make an impenetrable hedge to keep out neighbors kids and animals or other dangerous criminals. They are also beautiful when used for a silhouette against bare walls. They need excellent soil drainage. This is a true desert shrub.