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The Boojum Tree: Nature's Weirdest Plant.?

Updated on July 8, 2009

Baja: Beauty and Mystery

The Cirio, or Boojum Plant.
The Cirio, or Boojum Plant.
A Baja Oasis.  San Ignacio
A Baja Oasis. San Ignacio

Blimey! It's a 60-foot carrot!

The Boojum Tree may be Nature’s Weirdest Plant.

People driving through the desert on a trip to the hedonistic joys of Baja’s Cape region have been known to skid the car in a panicked circle and head back to the States with their foot flat to the accelerator thinking they are being chased by Triffids.  Well, not really, but you try to find an exciting sentence to open a hub article all the time. 
How about, then?  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, when I first saw a Boojum tree!”

The Cirio Plant, known to all Baja habitués as the Boojum Tree, the name taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem,” The Hunting of the Snark,” is one of the most wacky looking plants in the whole wide world.  It looks something like a huge, upside-down carrot.  That is if a carrot could reach heights of over 18 meters, with its long, tapering trunk branching into several stems at the top.  And the Boojum is no hurry to reach maturity, either, each meter takes around 27 years, making large specimens up to 500 years old, seeding before the Spanish Conquest.
During the hottest months of July through September, the Boojum bedecks itself in clusters of creamy-white or yellow flowers.  It may have several crops of spiky leaves along its pencil-like branches.  In periods of prolonged drought - which is about always here - the Cirio drops all its leaves and forms a thick, resinous coating which protects it from water loss.  Its leaves return a few days after rain.  As a seedling, the Boojum is eaten by deer and other ground dwelling mammals, but it has few predators as it matures.  It does have its own ecosystem of birds and insects which use the plant for various needs, such as nesting and predation of other species.  One such is a spider which takes on the same colouring as the flowers and so is disguised as it waits for prey.  Hummingbirds also feed on the Cirio helping to pollinate the plant along with other insects.  The Boojum also seems to have its own repellent of parasitic plants, such a mistletoe, common on other plants in Baja.  The main reason for the profusion of the Boojum today is that the early Indians found little use for the plant: it has no edible fruit and was of little value for firewood.  As they generally slept on the ground where they stopped, they did not use the plant for furniture as some are being used today.  The Boojum’s fortune is its relative inaccessibility and its protection by all the cactus around it. With the exception of the Cardon, the Boojum is the tallest plant on the Peninsula today.  Those found on mainland Mexico, mainly in the Sonora desert, are much shorter than those in Central Baja.  It is postulated that they were actually transplanted from Baja by the Seri, but these Indians saw the plant as having magic powers and weren’t keen on touching it at all, saying that to do so made the wind blow!
  It was first named Cirio by the Spanish Missionaries after the tall wax candles used in their churches.  The native Indians, such as the Pericue and Seri , were aware that the plant attracted bees which made hives in the trunks.  A Boojum is also one of the best places to find one of Baja’s predatory birds, which find they get a commanding view of prey from its heights and can also nest there.
Boojums are at their tallest and most populated in the central area of the Baja Peninsula, and continue south to about the Tres Virgenes Volcanoes, just north of San Ignacio.  This last place is also worth a visit as it is one of the only villages in South Baja to have natural fresh water, which travels underground from the volcanoes, and forms a small river and lakes which you can swim in…pretty and friendly little spot, too.

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    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      That is an interesting tree. Is it some kind of Yucca? I live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and have never seen these. I love how resourceful desert plants are and just how interdependent the desert ecosystem is. I'd love to travel to south Baja some day. Thanks for an interesting and informative read.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      HI. They are only in Baja and a few on the mainland Mexico. I don't think they are a yucca, I'll have to get back on that.

      Thanks for interest...Bob

    • paul_gibsons profile image

      paul_gibsons 7 years ago from Gibsons, BC, Canada

      no, it is not a yucca; it sits in the family of Fouquieria, a family all of its own in the order of Ericales, the rhodo's, tea. kiwifruits, cyclamen and tea for instance. Within that order it is a real odd-bal but there are other odd-balls there, including carnivorous plants and some of the plants without chhlorophyl. Not very useful, if you go up high enough in the various plant ordering system they all become... plants. So everything is related. But no, at lower level it is not related to yucca, not by a long shot in this case, based on the seed leaves: yucca has one, boojum two initial seed leaves

    • profile image

      Desert dweller 7 years ago

      It's related to Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) for those of you familiar with it's cousin mars plant.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks guys I missed your comments due to my not understanding HP back then. Paul, thanks - you're too much!! Bob

    • profile image

      Victor 5 years ago

      I have around 47-53 boojum trees that are around 4-8 inches tall

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Did you grow them from seedlings?

      Interesting

      Bob

    • profile image

      Mickey 5 years ago

      Thanks that helped A LOT! I needed information like that and this article is a very significant part of my project :)

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Glad to be of help Mickey

      Bob

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Very interesting fouquieria columnaris. Never heard of them before.

      Voting you up and interesting! Hope your Sunday has gone well . . . xx

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      Don't you swear at me like that!

      Very long Sunday!

      Bye bye

      Bob

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 2 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

      Hi Diogenes.

      I am currently travelling the Baja--on a motorcycle--and am awed by the scenery just north of Catavina in Baja California Norte. We were riding towards Catavina and saw an oasis of Cirio for the first time.

      Unbelievably beautiful these strange plants scattered among the cactus and only outdone in height by the awesome Cordone cactus. They were in bloom and it's now the end of November. It must have been a good rainy season for them.

      We stopped in Catavina for the night then rode back as far as this rock oasis of cacti and cirios. I just had to have some pictures.

      Thanks for your information. When I looked for more information on the cirio plant online, I was taken to your site--hope that's nice to know.

      Cheers, and thanks for info. I am a fan!

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks...and so heartening you are enjoying my favourite place on Earth, Baja California, where I spent many happy years. The cactus and rocks make up a unique landscape around that area. If you get down south, stay in La Paz and visit El Triunfo, a simple mining village I lived in for some years.

      Bob

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