Baja’s Magical Native Plant

Palo de Arco: Part of the Baja Experience in Everything from Gardens to Furniture to Fine Architecture

I am writing this sitting under a ramada shaded with palo de arco, lounging in a chair made of palo de arco sticks. I’m enjoying a garden filled with the bright yellow flowers of–you guessed it–palo de arco.

Clusters of clear yellow palo de arco flowers

Palo de Arco is a Baja California native distinguished by its shiny green foliage and clusters of bright, clear yellow, one-inch wide flowers. At this writing (late October, 2010) plants are in spectacular bloom and setting seed.

A THOUSAND USES

Early settlers throughout Baja built entire homes using palo de arco sticks for walls and doors, shade structures, fences and furniture. There’s a wonderful display of an early palo de arco ranchero home at the Cultural Center in the heart of downtown Todos Santos.

Another of my favorite palo de arco structures is the former Aguila bus stop in Todos Santos. No longer in use (a loss to our town’s status as a Pueblo Magico, if you ask me), this one-of-a-kind bus stop is built entirely of palo de arco–even the interior counters. I used to enjoy sitting on the station’s palo de arco bench waiting for the 70 peso bus ride to Cabo.

LANDSCAPE USES FOR PALO DE ARCO PLANTS

Loose, rambling palo de arco hedge provides privacy and filters the dust raised by passing traffic.

Palo de arco makes a wonderful, informal, easy-to-maintain hedge or privacy screen. You’ll often see it intermingled with bougainvillea, oleander, or other profusely flowering plants. Use it along driveways, or in masses beneath taller plants such as palms. Palo de arco seems to thrive on being trimmed. (Cut it back to the ground; it will resprout). Or, if you prefer, let it grow and the sticks will be thicker.

PALO DE ARCO FURNITURE

Outdoors, Penny and I own and use a lounge chair, two massive arm chairs, and a coffee table. Indoors we have a small rustic palo de arco coffee table. We have had the set for at least five years now, and it looks the same as the day we bought it.

The outdoor furniture is comfortable, but HEAVY. It takes two of us to move the lounge chair. Consider your portability needs before you invest in palo de arco furniture. You can purchase palo de arco furniture at craft fairs. Occasionally wandering craftsmen offer great deals from the back of their pickup trucks, as well.

STARTING PLANTS FROM SEED

You may notice seed pods on plants at this time of year. These tiny seeds are carried in are six to eight-inch long light brown pods. The tiny, flattish seeds are easy to germinate.  Set them in moist soil about one-eighth to one-quarter-inch deep and keep them slightly moist. They should germinate in a few days.

At the Government-run Campo Experimental 3 miles north of Todos Santos there are limited supplies of flats of 300 palo de arco seedlings

If you live in the Todos Santos/Pescadero area you may want to check out the Todos Santos Campo Experimental. This rather past-its-prime looking federal government funded agricultural research station struggles on by selling a few plants here and there. When I checked it it, they had some decent-looking flats of palo de arco seedlings. It’s located on the east side of Mexico highway 19 exactly 2.8 miles south of Todos Santos. Look for the big white blockhouse-looking buildings.

Palo de arco plants are also available at other nurseries.

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