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Fouquieria columnaris
Boojum Tree, Cirio

Photo of Fouquieria columnaris (Boojum Tree), Reid Moran, © 2000 SDNHM
Close-up photo trunk of Fouquieria columnaris (Boojum Tree), Reid Moran, © 2000 SDNHM

FOUQUIERIACEAE (Ocotillo Family)

The generic name refers to P.E. Fouquier, a Parisian medical professor. The specific epithet refers to the stout upward tapering trunk, which resembles a column. The common name of Boojum Tree was given by Godfrey Sykes of the Desert Botanical Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. He named it after a "mythical thing called a boojum found in desolate far-off regions, coined in the book The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carrol." Cirio refers to the slender type of altar candles used in religious ceremonies.
The Boojum Tree is placed into the genus Idria by some authors.


A large sarcocaulescent (stem succulent) plant growing to 18 m (54 feet) high with a gently tapering trunk, similar to a tall candle, up to 50 cm (1-1/2 feet) wide at the base. The trunk has several pencil-like short branches with deciduous leaves. On older trees, the main trunk splits into two or more stems near the top which resemble the arms of an octopus. The cream to yellow tubular flowers bloom from July to August and appear at the tops of the trunks and near the stem tips.

Range and Habitat

The Boojum Tree grows on rocky hillsides and alluvial plains from the southern Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, to the Volcán Las Tres Virgenes, and on Angel de la Guarda Island. There is also a disjunct population of Boojum Trees on the Sonoran mainland in the Sierra Bacha, south of Puerto Libertad. The Boojum forms forests in the Vizcaíno region and often occurs with yuccas, Ocotillo, and Cardón.

Natural History

Due to the its thin branching structure and heavy spines, not many animals use this plants as forage or habitat. Raptors, however, frequently nest in the crotch of some upper branches. The lichen (Ramalina menziesii), or Orchilla, grows on the Boojum in such abundance that in the late nineteenth century the Orchilla was collected and sold for the production of dye. In some areas the epiphyte Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata) covers it as well.

Text by Bob Lauri
Photographs by Reid Moran

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