Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Chuparosa's red flowers attract hummingbirds and add splashes of color to desert landscapes.

Wildflower Quests

It's an endless treasure hunt that gardeners and nature enthusiasts never seem to tire of. When and where will spring wildflowers carpet the desert floor with astounding swaths of yellow desert marigolds, orange poppies, bluebells, and purple lupine? Which of the more elusive gems, such as the flame-colored desert mariposa or the pale sego lily, will you find this year?

The discussion gets started when winter rains begin and really takes off when it becomes obvious that we are receiving the "right" sort of rain. Wildflower seeds germinate in late fall/early winter with the first rains. Seedlings then depend upon subsequent rains to continue their development. Years that offer gently soaking rains regularly spaced throughout the winter are likely to produce abundant spring wildflowers. On the other hand, long gaps between rainy periods or an early "hot spell" that isn't quickly followed with a rejuvenating rain means death for the majority of seedlings.

Patchy rain showers that fall in one locale but miss another nearby account for the hit or miss nature of wildflower displays. For example, in a good wildflower year, Arizona's Picacho Peak State Park hillsides (about one hour south of Phoenix) glow with orange poppies. Cars pull over along the freeway, with agog drivers snapping photos from their windows. This year, however, even though some areas of the state enjoyed decent precipitation, it has not been not a banner year for Picacho's infamous poppies. But if you're determined to view poppies in the wild, all is not lost. You'll find them at Bartlett Lake Recreation Area, about one hour's drive north of Phoenix. Poppies are also sparse at Lost Dutchman State Park this year, although numerous chuparosa (Justicia californica) blooming near the desert washes, along with hummingbirds attracted to their scarlet flowers, more than make up for it. (Chuparosa is Spanish for hummingbird.)

Where to Find Wildflowers
If time is limited, head to your nearest botanical garden or arboretum. They water and tend their wildflowers through the winter to ensure they have displays for the public and are a sure bet if you have out-of-town guests.

To find a trove of flowers in "the wild," check out the following resources before you hit the road. Public outreach efforts are more sophisticated than word-of-mouth and recorded telephone hotline messages of the recent past. Now we enjoy regular postings to Web sites with photos and locations. It's how I knew to point my car in the direction of Bartlett Lake to enjoy a sighting of unusual white poppies!

Desert Botanical Garden. Clearinghouse of info from parks around the state, focused in early spring to the south and central regions of the state where wildflowers appear first.

Arizona State Parks. Ranger Cam as well as postings at (user ID is AZStateParks).

Southern California
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Current descriptions of where flowers are blooming keyed to locales marked on their map.

Joshua Tree National Park. If you're in the field with a web browser, you may be able to identify what you're seeing by flower color and location. For example, click on Blue Flowers in Bloom for a chart of what%s flowering where, and then link to flower photos.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Includes their annual Wildflower Forecast, plus links to user-generated wildflower sightings. Wildflowers are not expected to have a banner year in Texas due to lack of winter rains.

DesertUSA. Click on Wildflower Reports 2009 for user input for Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.

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