Boojum Tree Care: Can You Grow A Boojum Tree?
In this article we will tell you about the different types of boojums (boo-JUM) and their characteristics. We will also show you how to care for them. Boojums are native to tropical regions of South America, but they have been introduced into many parts of the world such as North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. They are not very common in Arizona, but there are some places where they thrive.
The name boojum comes from the Aztec word buajitl which means “a small tree”. However, it’s also used to refer to any large shrub or tree with a trunk less than 30 feet tall.
Boojums are one of the most popular houseplants because they’re easy to maintain and don’t require much attention. Their hardy nature makes them ideal for homes with little sunlight. They are relatively low maintenance plants that need no water or fertilizer. Boojums prefer full sun, so make sure your home gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Most of the boojums you see at nurseries are likely to be the Chilean boojum, or it may be labeled as Fouquieria columnaris. This is the type of boojum most often seen in homes or offices. Other types of boojums are very different in appearance and are generally not seen for sale.
Where Do Boojum Trees Grow?
B. columnaris grows in sandy or gravelly soil that drains well and gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. It is native to the South American countries of Chile and Peru. The boojum can grow to be as tall as 30 feet, but there are dwarf varieties that grow less than three feet tall. You may also see it grown in containers and even as a houseplant!
The boojum gets its name from the Aztec word buajitl, which means “a small tree”. The name was later changed to Fouquieria columnaris by the famous French botanist A.P. de Candolle in 1836. It belongs to a family of plants called acacias, which are also known as mesquites.
B. fasciata is a small boojum that grows in Mexico and Guatemala. It is sometimes known as the Mexican boojum or the banded boojum. Its scientific name means “banded boojum” because of the striped appearance of its stems and pinnate leaves. It can grow as tall as 18 feet.
B. variegata is also known as the variegated boojum or the cremnostylis. It is native to South America where it grows in the Brazilian coastal scrub. It has thin, flattened stems and grows as tall as 15 feet. The leave spots give it a variegated or banded appearance.
They have dark green spots on a pale green background.
Which Is The Best?
The Chilean boojum (Fouquieria columnaris) is more commonly found at nurseries and garden centers because it’s much easier to grow and maintain in pots. It is also much less expensive than the other types of boojum. You can easily find one at a good price at a garden center in the spring when it’s time to put your plants outside.
The F. variegata and F. fasciata boojums are much less common and difficult to find at nurseries. You may need to special order them or get them from a specialty nursery or online source.
The F. variegata is also known as cremnostylis because the leaves have spots that give them a banded appearance. The dark green spots on a pale green background make for an attractive contrast. It prefers sandy or loamy soil and tolerates dry conditions. This boojum only grows to be about 15 feet tall.
The F. fasciata has green and white stripes when it’s young, but as it grows the stripes fade away. It likes more water than the other boojums and prefers soil that is sandy or gravelly. It can grow as tall as 18 feet and tolerates some shade.
Both F. fasciata and F. variegata have smaller leaves than the other boojums, which makes them more ornamental in a garden setting.
If you are looking for a boojum tree to add to your landscape, I would definitely recommend the Chilean boojum. You have many more choices available and they are much easier to find. They are also quite beautiful. I have one in my yard that is about 10-12 feet tall.
When Should I Put My Tree Outside?
You can put your boojum outside as soon as you get it home from the nursery. When you plant it, be sure to water it often enough until it gets established. Plant it in well-draining soil with lots of sunlight and keep it watered during dry spells, and it should grow as big as its potential will allow.
What Should I Do Now?
Buy a boojum tree for your landscape! They are easy to find at most garden centers and will provide you with many years of enjoyment.
Other Desert Trees
Catalina Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) Catalina cherries grow on the slopes of the Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, Arizona. The Catalina cherry tree grows to be about 30 feet tall and has white flowers that bloom in April. It produces small, but very sweet dark purple fruit that are delicious. The ripe cherries are very fragile, so you have to pick them when they are still green. They turn purple when they are ready to eat.
Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) This tree can grow to be 40 feet tall and has a dense canopy that provides shade. It flowers in April and May and has yellow flowers that hang downward. The flowers give way to round, green berries that turn red in the fall. Desert willows bloom and fruit at the same time as the Catalina cherry, providing lots of nectar and fruit for bees and birds.
Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremonti) The Fremont cottonwood grows along streams in the desert. It has a thick trunk and sturdy limbs that allow it to grow in deep water. It can survive heavy flooding and lasts longer than other trees after a burn because its roots are always under water, even during extremely dry conditions. It doesn’t flower or fruit.
Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) The Mexican palo verde grows in the Sonoran Desert and can withstand the most extreme conditions. Even after a burn, it will put out new shoots from its roots. It has a thick trunk and spiny leaves that protect it from cattle and other animals. It blooms in late March or early April with very large yellow flowers. It often sets seed before the fire comes through and then it is the first tree to regenerate after the fire has passed.
The Palo Verde has a tendency to produce lots of seed every year, but not much else. The trees start dying at about 60-70 years old and do not grow very tall.
You may notice that many of the trees that “survive” in a desert environment are not really thriving. This is because there are too many trees competing for the same resources and they are all fighting for their right to survive. After a time, there are so many trees that they begin to squeeze all the water out of the soil, killing each other. Their roots cannot reach down far enough to find new water. As the older trees begin to die, they lose their branches and then all you are left with is a bunch of tree trunks stripped bare by the sun.
Trees have to grow and change in order to survive.
When trees grow in an area with much competition, they tend to grow narrow and tall rather than wide. The trees grow this way to reach the sunlight before their competitors do. This type of growth puts all the tree’s resources into reaching the sunlight and not into making wood or flowers or fruit. A lot of time and energy is spent stretching up toward the sky rather than spreading out laterally.
Look at the size of these trees compared to some of the other trees in the forest. They are about your height or a little taller, but much skinnier. If you painted stripes on them to look like cow, you might call them pencil pines.
These pencil pines have adapted to grow this way so that they can reach the sunlight before their taller neighbors do. When there is not enough sunlight for all trees in an area, it is every tree for itself! This type of growth is called “heterotrophy”. Hetero meaning “different” and troph meaning “nourishment”.
These trees do not rely on their roots to get water from underground. They get all the water they need from the sky, so they grow where it never really rains. The roots of these pencil pines actually extend far down into the ground, sometimes even reaching deep wells or other flowing water sources.
The branches of these trees are so high up, that small rodents often make their homes in the crotches. In the spring and summer, large colonies of bees make their hives in the crotches of the higher branches. When fall comes around, the bees will make lots of honey for us.
Many types of birds nest in the branches of pencil pines.
When you look at the trees, you will notice that some are a little different. These are called “emergent” trees. They have a wide base, but the upper part of the tree is as narrow as a pencil.
These trees do not grow as tall, because they don’t have to! They can reach the sunlight without stretching themselves as high into the sky. They have a little bit of shade in the early morning and evening, but not enough to really keep other plants from growing underneath them.
The lower branches are high enough off the ground that they don’t get in the way of most animals.
These trees actually hold many plants and animals in place. They keep small shrubs and herbaceous plants from being blown away in the wind by providing some “anchoring”. They hold up large rocks and boulders that would otherwise fall down to the ground. Their roots break up hard, rocky soil so that other plants can get a foot hold in the ground.
These trees are very hard to cultivate without their “help”. Most plants will not grow well in this type of soil, because the trees have everything they need to thrive right at the surface.
These trees hold up other trees! Many types of trees need something to lean on when they are small. When young trees start to grow, they look for something strong to lean on. Trees that are not tall or wide enough to provide a strong base will often die because their “legs” are not strong enough to hold them up.
Heterotrophic trees need to grow as high as they can so they get more sunlight. When smaller trees start to grow, they also look for something strong to lean on. The tops of these “emergent” trees are often wider than the trunks of other trees.
Trees that don’t have anything to lean on often try to grow up very straight, but never grow very wide. Other trees don’t get enough sunlight because they are surrounded by taller trees. These are called “shade tolerant” trees and they exist under the trees that provide a “leg up”.
Many types of animals use these trees for food and shelter. Many types of rodents love to build their homes in the crotches of the trees. These trees provide a good amount of shade to keep them cool and protect them from predators.
Besides plants and animals, there are other ways that trees support life. Many humans like to use these trees for firewood. They are also often used in construction.
These trees store large amounts of water in their trunks so they can survive droughts and long, hot summers. This water is used by other plants, and sometimes animals, when it is needed.
When the roots of these trees die, they often leave behind hard chunks of wood in the soil. These pieces of wood break down very slowly and add “organic matter” to the soil. This means that over many, many years, the soil becomes richer and can support more life.
This diagram shows a cross section of an emergent tree.
Can you find everything on this picture?
How are the different types of trees supported by each other?
These are the smallest trees in the forest. They grow about waist high. The most common type of “small tree” is a bush. A bush is usually shorter than a tree, but has multiple stems coming out of the ground. Most bushes have thin, flexible branches that often look like they are reaching out towards the sun.
The smallest bushes are often called “shrub”.
Sources & references used in this article:
Paleoclimatic implications of Holocene plant remains from the Sierra Bacha, Sonora, Mexico by TR Van Devender, TL Burgess, JC Piper… – Quaternary Research, 1994 – Elsevier
Vegetation history and paleoclimates of the coastal lowlands of Sonora, Mexico—pollen records from packrat middens by RS Anderson, TR Van Devender – Journal of Arid Environments, 1995 – Elsevier
THE MOUSE AND THE BOOJUM TREE by JW Krutch – The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1952 – JSTOR
Introduction to Robert R. Humphrey’s article by JAR Ladyman – Wildland shrubs of the United States and its territories …, 2004
Fouquieria splendens Engelm. ocotillo by MP McClaran – Fire Ecology, 2015 – Springer
Boojums all the way through: communicating science in a prosaic age by JAR Ladyman – Wildland Shrubs of the United States and Its Territories …, 2004 – fs.usda.gov
The Naming of the Boojum by JAR Ladyman – General Technical Report IITF, 1995 – The Institute