Ridge Road Stories

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." - John Muir

The Boojum Tree

Many years ago, two English botanists, father and son, were scanning a remote part of the Sonoran desert, with telescope, looking for new plants, when the son saw a huge tree in the distance. In my imagination, the conversation might have gone like this; "Dad, come look at this-it's a tree that is upside down; its ... it's a BOOJUM.

What he saw was a tall tree like a giant telephone pole with short branches curled like roots all the way to the top of the tree. The son botanist, Godfrey Sykes, was an aficionado of the poet and author Lewis Carroll. In the poem "The Hunt for the Snark" Lewis Carroll, as he was wont to do, coined the word Boojum to describe a mystical spectral figure in the poem. In Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" Alice comes across a forest of strange trees that looked like they were upside down, and Alice cried out: "A BOOJUM". The name stuck, and now there are BOOJUM restaurants, BOOJUM Gardens and Nurseries. The botanical name of the tree is Fouquicria columaris. It is in the cactus family and related to the ocotillo. It is a rare tree confined to the Sonoran desert and the Baha, and can grow to 80 feet and live 500 years. Good specimens can be seen at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the Desert Botanical Garden. I like this story. | Back to Musings