Make An Ocotillo
Ocotillos have long skinny thorny gray limbs covered with tiny grey-green leaves (no stems). In extended dry spells, the leaves fall off and the plant appears dead until there's a bit of moisture, then the tiny leaves appear again. It has a bright red-orange bloom at the tip that is sort of an opened-out v-shape like a pincer.
Here's a recipe for making an ocotillo for your southwestern scene using poppy seeds. (This is not original with me, although the directions are mine.)
Small piece of paper painted red-orange, and/or mixture of railroad modeler's apples and oranges.
Pale gray-green acrylic craft paint. I usually use Seminole; the seeds give it a grayish cast.
Beige-brown craft paint
Piece of florist's foam. I use the light brown type for dried arrangements.
Ordinary sand, preferably containing a few tiny rocks
6 inch square of aluminum foil, folded into thirds, then creased into a v-shaped trough. This holds your seeds.
Small squares of wax paper
Paper plates for your work surfaces. You can just bend the plate into a funnel to pour any excess seeds back into your container.
On a paper plate place your foil v-shaped trough, pouring poppy seeds down its length For limbs that are about 2-3 inches long, take an even number of 7 inch wires, grab all in the middle and bend them in half into a tight v-shape. Pull down one wire and wrap around the bend so that you have a bit of a root for planting in your foam. This leaves you an uneven number of limbs for your plant, which looks better. Leave the excess tail of wire to poke into foil while plant dries.
Place a piece of waxed paper on a second plate and pour on a puddle of glue. Pull down one wire from the bunch and, holding by plant's root and tail, drag the single wire through the puddle until it is covered with glue. Lay the wire in the trough and turn to coat with seeds. Remember, don't hold the plant over your glue plate, because you want to recapture any spilled seeds for another use. Gently shake off excess into trough. Add a touch of glue with a toothpick where needed and re-coat any bare spots. Continue pulling down wires and repeating this process until all wires are coated with glue and seeds.
Dip tail/root into Tacky and poke plant into foam to dry. Pour any excess seeds back in container. Obviously, I don't use these poppy seeds for cooking.
When plant is thoroughly dry, leave in florist foam and paint with a slightly watered-down gray-green paint, dabbing gently with your brush. Use the piece of florist foam as a handle. Work over your paper plate to catch the seeds which will inevitably fall off as you paint. Don't try to coat completely; you don't want a totally solid look. Don't worry if your plant looks a bit ragged; this is a rugged-looking plant, so some variation just makes it look more realistic. Let dry.
For the bloom, fold red-orange paper and cut a small v-shaped piece. Remember those flying v birds you drew as a child? That shape. Or, place a dab of glue on a toothpick, then poke into railroad apple-orange mixture. Form into tiny clusters to indicate budding bloom. Pull cluster off toothpick and glue your bloom onto tips of plant.When thoroughly dry, take tweezers and pull the limbs out from central cluster, one by one, bending slightly here and there so that they stick out irregularly, some shorter than others.
Using a serrated knife, gently shape foam to form a slight mounded sand-dune, tapering to almost nothing where it will be glued into your scene, leaving base fairly broad. Paint dune with mixture of Tacky and beige-brown paint, sort of glopping it around base of plant. Working over another paper plate, pour sand over wet paint, pushing it against roots so that plant looks as if it's growing from the sand. When you glue ocotillo to your scene, use more Tacky-paint and sand to make it blend imperceptibly into your ground.
If you make more than one, vary the lengths so they are shorter or longer than the first plant. My philosophy is, never make just one of anything; make at least three. By the third one you really know what you're doing, and you always have an extra to give as a gift.
Here is an ocotillo in another setting, Pat's Madonna in the Tin Lantern.
And here is a third one with a roadrunner.
A small owl or hawk or other bird found in a desert environment also looks wonderful perched on the highest limb. Otherwise, a butterfly adds an unexpected touch of romance to your scene.
(I sent these instructions in to the old SmallStuffDigest as a how-to.)