A Boojum Tree
(Image credit: EuToch)

Fans of Doctor Seuss illustrated books may find similarity of form in the bizarre boojum tree. The unique architectural shapes of these upright succulents, lend a surreal note to the arid landscape. Growing boojum trees requires bright light and warm temperatures. Among the many interesting boojum tree facts regard its shape. The Spanish name for the tree is Cirio, which means taper or candle.

What is a Boojum Tree?

Boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris) are native to the Baja California peninsula and parts of the Sonoran Desert. The plants are part of rocky hillsides and alluvial plains where water is rare, and temperatures may be extreme. What is a boojum tree? The “tree” is actually a striking succulent with an upright form and imposing columnar height. Southern gardeners in arid regions can grow a boojum tree outdoors, while the rest of us will have to content ourselves with greenhouse and interior specimens that will not reach the heights those wild plants can achieve. Cultivated boojum trees may command a price tag of $1,000 per square foot (ouch!). The plants grow slowly, putting on less than a foot of dimension per year, and wild harvest is prohibited due to the protected status of this cactus. Boojums in the wild have been found at 70 to 80 feet in height (21-24 m.), but cultivated plants are significantly less at only 10 to 20 feet tall (3-6 m.). The trees resemble taper candles with tiny bluish green leaves that drop off when the plant reaches dormancy. These are cool-season plants that do the majority of their growth from October to April and then go dormant in the hotter weather. The main stem is succulent and soft while smaller branches appear perpendicular to the trunk. Flowers are creamy white in clusters on the terminal ends of branches from February through March.

Boojum Tree Facts

Boojum trees are named after a mythical thing found in the work, The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll. Their fantastic form resembles an upside-down carrot and groups of them create quite an astounding display as the vertical trunks snake up from the earth. Boojum trees are quite rare due to seed disputes and their protected wild status. The drought tolerant plants are perfect in the southwestern landscape and provide vertical appeal that is enhanced by thick-leaved succulents and other xeriscape plants. Gardeners who wish to try growing Boojum trees should have deep pockets, since purchasing even baby plants can be quite expensive. It is illegal to harvest wild plants.

Boojum Tree Care

If you are very lucky, you can try to grow a boojum tree from seed. Seed germination is sporadic and the seeds themselves can be difficult to find. Once seeds are sown, cultivation is similar to any other succulent. The plants need light shade when young but can tolerate full sun when mature. Sandy, well-drained soil is a must with superior drainage, as the worst evil to befall a boojum tree is root rot. Water potted plants once per week when they are actively growing. During dormancy the plant can do with half its normal water needs. Container boojum tree care requires addendum nutrients to supplement the potting mix. Feed the plant in February with a balanced fertilizer diluted to half. Growing boojum trees isn’t difficult provided you can find one and you don’t overwater or overfeed the plant.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.