A Matter of Perspective

Ocotillo Thorns

Ocotillo Spines @ 2011 Bo Mackison

This is an ocotillo, one of the most plentiful plants in the Sonoran desert. It offers a great lesson in perspective. When you look at the ocotillo, do you first see its long, sharp spines? And when you notice the spines, do you see them as a threat to you or do you see them as the protector of the plant?

The ocotillo, a major shrub in the Sonoran desert, acts more like a succulent than a woody plant. It can absorb sunlight for photosynthesis through its leafless stem during the dry seasons. And when there is a desert rain, it will produce full grown leaves within three days. This plant has both primary and secondary leaves. When the primary leaves fall off the shrub, the remaining woody stalk elongates and becomes a spine.

Ocotillo Blooming

Ocotillo Blooming © 2011 Bo Mackison

Perhaps your attention is first drawn to the bright cluster of flowers at the tips of the branches, to the beauty of the tightly clustered  red cylindrical blooms.

Ocotillos are a favorite of migrating hummingbirds. The ocotillo is often the only spring desert flower in abundant bloom, even in very dry spring seasons. Hummingbirds, which migrate  from Mexico to their breeding grounds as far north as Alaska, pass over the desert in huge numbers and get their nourishment, the nectar, from the bright red tubular flowers.

Ocotillo Star

Ocotillo Star © 2011 Bo Mackison

Or perhaps you see the ocotillo in a different way. Perhaps, when you look at the ocotillo from a unique angle, you can imagine a desert full of woody stars.

So many perspectives, all from the same plant. Just depends on what you focus on, what you notice, and how closely you look. What part of the ocotillo first attracts your attention?


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson through the first week in April, exhibiting her photography in art fairs, taking photographs in deserts,  and blogging about “Bo goes solo”. She is learning much about life as she studies the plants in the desert.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Joanna Paterson says:

    What a lovely lesson in perspective 🙂

    And the picture of the star… is just breathtaking

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I’ve been studying the ocotillo for several weeks now, and I’ve taken dozens of photos with different perspectives. Thus the different perspectives blog was born. I was quite thrilled, myself, when I saw the star!

  2. I dream of visiting the desert in spring. Thank you for these images.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      You are very welcome. This, I’ve been told, I’ve been told isn’t a “good” spring, it’s a dry spring preceded by a record breaking frost. There is little color in the desert now, and a few of my neighbors asked me “just what am I photographing when there aren’t any flowers out there.”

      But I love the desert–there is plenty to see when you get in close and look! Hope you get to see the desert some day in person. Until then, you are welcome to share my journey.

  3. I see the spikes first, but the star is captivating

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, those spikes are eye-catching and best to pay attention to them. After all they protect the desert plants from creatures who might be a threat. (Not you, of course!)

  4. I think the showy red flowers would draw my attention first. I would probably notice the spikes after getting caught in them in some way.

    Beautiful images, Bo, and an interesting way to learn about perspective. The star is really lovely. 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes the flowers are a draw. What I should have shown you, and I ran out of time so I didn;t have one processed, is a photo of the entire ocotillo plant. The flowers wave high in the desert breezes, so it is actually quite easy to see the thorns first, then the flowers.

  5. I loved the Ocotillo, for the beauty of its leaves and flowers in season. What a nice way to celebrate a rain! I think that anyone who sees cactus (or Ocotillo) spines as a threat should not spend much time in the Arizona desert.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, I love the ocotillo, too. I’ve not had the privilege of seeing the desert greening after a rain–to dry–but I’ll be thrilled when I do see it.

  6. Joanne Keevers says:

    Actually, when I looked at the first photo, I immediately noticed the formation of an X, and then the spines, Bo. Although I didn’t see them as a threat. They would only be harmful if you got too close to them! The flower is stunning, just as cactus flowers usually are, and such a vivid colour.

    Seeing the ocotillo from different perspectives could be likened to how different people see life, don’t you think?

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, I noticed that X too, rather like the plant was saying “danger, stay away”.

      And yes, I think it is good to look at both the differences and the similarities. It makes you more aware of your surroundings, and of the people you meet.

  7. This is incredible! Love how you’ve looked at this plant from so many angles and points-of-view..and how it changes accordingly. Terrific!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      The ocotillo is not only a changeable plant, it is a very useful one too. Many times I have seen an ocotillo fence or roof. Very resourceful, the desert peoples.

  8. First, I notice the long, thin branches reaching high up into the sky, taking note of their spiny silhouettes. I was told long ago that ranchers once, and perhaps still do, use ocotillo branches as fencing. It’d make a good fence, I’m thinking. The star is my favorite – what a great perspective.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, they use the ocotillo branches not only for fencing, also for roofing for the ramadas.
      With the sharp spines, that would make a very effective fence! Fun photo, the star! I like it too.

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