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What is a Desert Candle?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Also known as a foxtail lily, the desert candle is a cactus plant that originally hails from Asia. It now flourishes in other parts of the world, with the desert regions of the United States being among the most well-known sites for finding this particular flowering plant. The desert candle is one of the more popular members of the Brassicaceae family of annual plants. Its scientific name is Caulanthus inflatus, but it derives its common name from its erect shape and flowering tip, which resembles that of a long, ornate candle.

In the United States, the desert candle is one of several flowering plants found in the Southwestern desert. It blooms during the spring and can grow as tall as 8 feet (2.44 m). Like other succulents, these flowering plants retain water, which is how they are able to survive high desert temperatures. These annuals also require plenty of direct sunlight and are a popular choice for desert garden borders, as well as fresh-cut floral arrangements.

While most flowering plants are unable to withstand intense temperatures, succulents and cactus store moisture in special cells and tissues located throughout the plant. Some store water in the leaves, roots, flowers and the stem. The desert candle retains its moisture primarily in its stem and flowers, and is even known to survive long periods of drought.

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Purple flowers grow along the greenish-yellow hollow stem of this unique plant. The base of each flower is white, and green leaves also grow at the base of the plant’s stem. A single purple flower decorates the very tip. Some desert candle species, including hybrid foxtail lilies, come in an array of vivid colors, such as red, gold and orange.

Although it is not an edible plant, the desert candle is sometimes referred to as squaw-cabbage. A member of the mustard family, it is also a relative of edible leafy plants such as kale, turnip and mustard. While these other prominent members of the Brassicaceae family are cultivated for food use, this particular plant is typically grown for ornamental purposes.

The desert candle can only be reproduced from the stem cuttings of another plant. Its flowers do not produce seeds and are, thus, completely sterile. Although it is a favorite in desert gardens, contact with a desert candle can irritate skin or even prompt an allergic reaction in some.

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