Living Ocotillo Fences – Fouquieria splendens

ocotillo cactus closeup

by Walks On Rocks

I am fascinated with a recent discovery.   In the desert southwest the Ocotillo Cactus (Fouquieria splendens) is harvested to create living fences and other garden features.  It is a material that is exciting in that it is unique to the region where it is used and it really gives a sense of the place.

ocotillo cactus in the borrego badlands

by Walks On Rocks

Like many cactus, the plant comes alive, in a sense, when water is available.  While the stems can look dead – even thought they are not, when dormant, it is amazing to me that when they leaf out, the leaves almost look like boxwood.

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Poppies with ocotillo fence in the background by alicia_d_lars

Ocotillo cactus is harvested and used in garden construction. Rancho Lobos is a producer of ocotillo fencing and this is how they describe the product:

These shrubs have been used by rural communities for ages in the construction of fences, ramadas and ceiling decorations. With the distinct feature that, when used for fencing, the ocotillo stems are buried about 4 to 6 inches into the ground, allowing them to root, providing a living fence that can grow up to 20 feet tall. For commercial purposes the stems are cut 2 to 3 feet from the base, choosing diameters between 3/4 to 2 inches, considered to be mature stems. They present little to no spines, except for the top part of the stem, which is trimmed to provide segments as uniform as possible 6 feet tall. Then they are woven together with a thin galvanized wire (cal. 18) to hold them together and allow growth. Making fence sections 5 feet long that can be easily rolled for transportation.

ocotillo corral fence vinewood

by Schooksonruss

This old corral fence was made from Ocotillo Cactus sticks.  The sticks are also called Candlewood, Slimwood, Coachwood and Vine Cactus.

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by fucher is now

In a way, I think it is similar to willow.  I am wondering if there are other locally known plants that can, in this way, be used to create a natural barrier or fence.  Do you know of any?

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Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

6 Comments

  1. Ryan on October 29, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Wow!

    That is one fence that would really take off here, if only it would survive!

    The thorns would make it a great option to increase security and the fact that you can just cut and plant makes it incredibly easy to use! Very much like Williow indeed!

    How fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  2. Susan aka Miss R on October 29, 2009 at 11:39 am

    What about a Belgian fence? A traditional espalier technique of weaving plants together for in a hatch pattern… http://www.finegardening.com/CMS/uploadedImages/Images/Gardening/Issues_61-70/041070055-01_med.jpg

  3. Suzanna on December 10, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Note, that these cacti only have no spines when they are about 2″ in diameter, until then then they are spined BEASTS. Very intimidating in the winter landscape.

  4. mike millican on March 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    im not tryin to be too critical but i dont believe ocatillo is a cactus. MM

  5. Les on April 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Ocatillo is a succulent; easily mistaken for a cactus.

  6. Jennifer Polakis on March 17, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Ocotillos are actually trees/bushes.

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