Boojum tree

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Boojum Tree
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Three Boojum or Cirio trees in the central Baja desert.
Three Boojum or Cirio trees
in the central Baja desert.
Plant Info
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Division: Magnoliophyta
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Ericales
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Family: Fouquieriaceae
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Genus: Fouquieria
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Species: F. columnaris
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Binomial name
Fouquieria columnaris
(Kellogg) Kellogg ex Curran
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Type Species

The boojum or (Spanish) cirio (Fouquieria columnaris, syn. Idria columnaris) is a bizarre-looking tree in the family Fouquieriaceae, whose other members include the ocotillos. It is nearly endemic to the Baja California Peninsula, with only a small population in the Sierra Bacha of Sonora. The plant's English name is derived from Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark".

Boojum tree at Baja California desert, Cataviña region.
Boojum tree in UC Riverside's Botanical Garden.

The peculiar distribution pattern of the mainland boojums has led Mexican botanists to conclude that they were probably transplanted to the mainland by the indigenous Seri people, who lived in this area and still live on communal property south of this location. The Seri name for this plant is cototaj [ˈkototax]. In Seri belief, touching this plant will cause strong winds to blow (an undesirable state). Given this belief, the hypothesis that the Seri people transplanted it is doubtful.

The trunk is up to 24 cm thick, with branches sticking out at right angles, all covered with small leaves 1.5-4 cm long. They can grow to a height of 20 m. The flowers bloom in summer and autumn; they occur in short racemes, and are creamy yellow with a honey scent.

Cirios are fairly popular as garden plants in the southwestern US, including numerous botanical gardens and zoos. This popularity has endangered the plant as the younger plant population has been depleted.


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