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The Mystery Behind the Survival of One of the World's Most Strangest Plants

Updated on April 2, 2013
 World's Strangest Looking Plants - Boojum
World's Strangest Looking Plants - Boojum

The BooJum Tree

Plant experts will never know all there is to know about the plant world. In fact, there are still thousands of different species of plants throughout the world that they have never bless eyes on before. While some may appear rather beautiful and breathtaking to the eyes, others are considered strange or even odd looking. What I am about to share with you today is the mystery behind the survival of a one of these strangest looking plants in a brutal and arid environment.

if you were to take a tour 200 miles south of San Diego, down the peninsula of Baja California to an area deep in Mexico's Sonoran desert, you would be alarmed to discover some of the world's strangest looking plants. The boojum trees,(fouquieria columnar) are some of such unbelievably looking plants. It has been said that approximately two centuries ago, the Spanish missionaries named them cirios("church candles"), thinking that these tall, slender trees with flame-like clusters of yellow flowers resembled the narrow candles on a Spanish church altar.

The late Robert R. Humphrey, who has been hailed the world's expert on the boojum, pointed out in 1935 that most species of plants in the deserts of North America are either shrubs, like the creosote bush, or water-storing stem succulents, like the saguaro cactus. Curiously, the boojum is considered both.

It has a thick central shoot that resembles a carrot. Amazingly, this shoot that reaches up to about 26 meters(85 ft) can store many gallons of water. Projecting from the trunk are also hundreds of leafy and thorny side branches that are approximately 60 cm(24 inches) in length. Odd as the boojum may appear, however, this combination of traits work to it's advantage. In fact, no other tree as tall or stout is able to withstand the dry conditions in the Sonoran desert.

At times when the weather is scorching hot and dry for months, the boojum will droop so severely that its tip almost touches the ground. Most of the time however, this strange plant remains upright despite the searing heat and drought.

(C) I.McFarlane 2012

The Mystery Behind the Boojum's Survival

The question is,how does this plant able to survive such harsh environmental conditions? There's a simple explanation to this : It's crisp upward growth indeed represents a perfect illustration of the way plants can store and transport water and nutrients. Like most trees, the boojum has a cylinder of Xylem. Through this tissue, unbroken columns of water molecules move from the roots to the highest branches and leaves by means of an evaporative transport mechanism.

In addition, the boojum's trunk is said to have these two less typical features which allow it to adopt to the dry and harsh environment:

  1. A thick central core(the carrot shape core mentioned above) of pitch cells that stores many gallons of water.
  2. A layer of stone cells just inside the outermost epidermis that acts as internal armor, offering ample protection to the trunk from the bitter sun rays, the ravages of woodpecker birds, and hungry rodents that roam the area.

One final finding about one of the world's most strangest plant -- the boojum -- is that, because the climatic conditions are so severe in Baja California, only once every 15 to 20 years can a generation of boojum seedlings get sufficient water to thrive beyond the first treacherous six weeks of life. Once established, however, the plants can survive up to 700 years, and eventually tower over their desert neighbors.

The boojum is just one of the many unfold mysteries of the plant world. If you are planning on taking the voyage to Baja California, take your camera along with you and be prepared to take a shot of one of the world's strangest and mysterious plants.

(C) I. McFarlane 2012


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    • mackyi profile image

      I.W. McFarlane 4 years ago from Philadelphia

      Thanks for stopping by Deb and also for leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 4 years ago

      Really interesting plant. So many wonderful finds everywhere - many are not even named. Useful and Interesting.

    • mackyi profile image

      I.W. McFarlane 5 years ago from Philadelphia


      I see you have been to Baja California -- great! However, You might have not seen the boojum,because you haven't been deep down in Mexico's Sonoran desert.

    • mackyi profile image

      I.W. McFarlane 5 years ago from Philadelphia

      Thanks buckeupdorothy,I specifically share this article because I found it rather interesting when I accidentally stumbled upon it; I believe others might also find it interesting.

    • ThePelton profile image

      ThePelton 5 years ago from Martinsburg, WV USA

      I went to Baja California about 35 years ago, and I remember seeing the saguaros in abundance, but I don't recall seeing a boojum. I agree with buckleupdorothy, however. Voted up.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Very interesting. Voted up.