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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's almost time for the desert wildflower explosion

Snowbirds look forward to spring as the coming of not only warmer weather, but of the wildflowers. Newcomers to the desolate monotones of the winter desert have a hard time visualizing this dry, rocky terrain bursting in vivid displays of impossibly colored wildflowers.

Hundreds of thousands of seeds lay dormant beneath the barren surface waiting patiently—sometimes for years—for all the necessary conditions to line up properly and stimulate germination. Then the desert erupts with dazzling displays as if Mother Nature had gone giddily wild with her paint palate.

The intensity of the bloom is dependent on several conditions that must occur at specific times and with specific intensity. For instance, in order for the seeds to germinate, they must be nurtured by soft, soaking winter rains coming at the right intervals.

If the desert were to receive the heavy, flash-flood rains typical of summer, the seeds would instead turn their backs and go to sleep for another year, providing they weren’t ripped from the gravely soil and washed away.

Temperatures have to be right also. If a heat wave moves through in December or January, the seeds may wake up and be fooled into thinking that it's time to germinate. But when the short daylight hours and cold temperatures return, it could mean an early demise for these eager sprouters.

However, these seeds are not easily fooled. When conditions are right, only some will germinate, while others hold back for later in the growing season or for another year. In this way they protect themselves from extinction in case of a freak freeze or infestation of plant-eating insects.

When the bloom begins, wildflower hunters scurry about the desert floor, along highways, up rocky bajadas, and into narrow arroyos oohing and aahing like crazed lunatics. As a wildflower hunter you must take advantage of time, abrupt seasonal change, elevation, rainfall amounts, and other factors to determine the location of the best displays.

One of the first locations wildflowers pop their heads through the ground is along highways and in washes where rain runoff has provided extra moisture to germinate the seeds. Look for the first flowers at lower elevations and south facing hillsides, where the temperatures are warmer. Abundant stands of wildflowers can gather in shallows where rainwater collects, or under the protection of large desert trees or plants like palo verdes, acacias, and saguaro cacti.

But don’t wait until the peak wildflower season or you will miss many of the early opening flowers that may bloom for only a few weeks before dropping their seeds to await next year. Some wildflowers bloom as early as February. Cactus flowers don’t usually open until April, when many other annuals have passed.

See more photos of desert wildflowers. Next week we will look at some desert locations where you can see wildflower blooms.
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  1. where and when were these photos taken? How would one find these places to see for ourselves? Very awesome beauty.

  2. These photos ere taken in the Mojave and Sonora Deserts during especially good years for wildflowers. Not all years are as spectacular as these photos, but they do bloom to greater or lesser degrees every year. The next RV Boondocking News blog will visit some of the better--or more consistent--locations.

  3. Thank you for the quick reply. What month should I look for them. We live in Indiana and would like to plan a trip in that direction.

  4. The first wildflowers are starting to bloom now in the warmer locations like Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona and the lower elevations of Anza Borrego Desert State Park in southeastern California. Co to the websites for both for current estimated bloom times. The bloom will continue to increase through March and in April the cacti begin. Also check with for more wildflower info.

  5. I wish I could see the desert wildflower blooms in person, but these pictures really paint a beautiful picture. If you're ever looking for campgrounds or travel destinations in the area, Check out These list campgrounds, shows, rallies and even RV dealerships from all across the nation. Check it out, there something on there for every RV camper!