Ocotillos and Hummingbirds – The Perfect Match

Working Together

Ocotillos provide a reliable food source for hummingbirds during their northern migration, all while getting pollinated along the way.

Hiding In Plain Sight

OOcotillos 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 Bush in Bloom
Ocotillo Bush – Arizona

Little Torch

Ocotillo is Spanish for Little Torch referring to the bright red flowers that appear at the end of the stems. Ocotillo is Spanish for Little Torch, referring to the bright red flowers at the end of the stems. The photograph above is a classic example of an Ocotillo in bloom. However, this is not its only name, and some others include Jacob’s Staff, Desert Coral, Candlewood, Vine Cactus, Coachwhip, and my favorite Flaming Sword.

Many people think of Ocotillos as cactus, but they are really thorny shrubs. The shrub categorization becomes apparent 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.

Hummingbird Migration

Ocotillos bloom once in the spring to coincide with the Hummingbird migration.

Ocotillos have co-evolved with hummingbirds. If you look very closely at the flowers (see below) you will see that they are tubular in shape just perfect for a hummingbird’s beak.

Ocotillo Bush Blooms
Ocotillo Flowers

Ocotillo blooms once in the spring and between March and June, depending on the latitude and rainfall. 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.

Humming Bird
Hummingbird

Leave a Reply