Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2019-2020
26 February 2020
26 February 2020
Fig. 1. Left: One of the nicer patches of desert dandelion, Malacothrix glabrata, near the Horse Camp. Right: A fairly typical brittlebush, Encelia farinosa now, from just south of Second Crossing, with a blooming creosote bush on its left, and a blooming chuparosa in the distance.
Click on the photos for larger versions.
We are now in full bloom on the desert floor, in the canyons immediately west of Borrego Springs, and along S22 on the Montezuma Grade. The bloom is that of a typical "good" year, defined as a year where there was enough rainfall to germinate annuals in most places. This is most definitely NOT a superbloom year, but it is a wonderful normal year.
In most normal good years, the annual bloom in many areas consists of small plants with few flowers in many areas, but with scattered areas that have better blooms. The bloom duration is short in many normal good years, since the plants haven't received enough water to grow very big or last very long. As of 26 February 2020, plants were running out of water, as shown by many ocotillos beginning to lose their leaves nearly everywhere, and brittlebush starting to produce their smaller summer leaves.
As of 26 February 2020, the annual bloom is good along most of the roads in the Borrego Springs area, with nice displays of desert dandelion, Malacothrix glabrata; and Fremont's pincushion, Chaenactis fremontii, with some glorious fiery-red plants of chuparosa, Justicia californica, at the very bottom of S22 Montezuma Grade. There are scattered blooms of desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, peeking out of many of the shrubs. The annual bloom is also good in the canyons on the west side of Borrego Springs, and there are decent flowers along most of the length of Coyote Canyon dirt road from the end of the pavement at Di Giorgio Road to First Crossing. However, most of the area at the end of Di Giorgio Road has few flowers; see this pix taken on 12 February 2020 showing at extreme left the blooms along the roadside, and the lack of blooms elsewhere.
Many perennial plants produce good blooms in such years. For example, brittlebush, Encelia farinosa, is ablaze with flowers all along the Montezuma Grade.
Here are some examples from the past few weeks showing how variable the annual bloom is:
- On 6 February 2020, we found 54 species in bloom on a 4.5 mile hike from 230 to 700 feet elevation in the Elephant Tree Natural Area! 23 species each had over 100 decent-sized plants in bloom, including such favorites as brown-eyed evening primrose, Chylismia claviformis; small-flowered poppy, Eschscholzia minutiflora; Parish's poppy, Eschscholzia parishii; Bigelow's monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii; desert star, Monoptilon bellioides; rock daisy, Perityle emoryi; and common phacelia, Phacelia distans. We estimated that full bloom in that area would probably occur in mid-February, and it may even be declining there now, at the end of February.
However, on our drive along S2 and SR78 to get there, the bloom was very sparse.
- On 12 February 2020, we found only 29 species in bloom on a hike to Little Clark Dry Lake, mostly a non-showy display of small plants with few blooms each. The landscape in at least half of the places along our hike looked desolate, consisting mostly of stressed-looking plants buried in Sahara Mustard skeletons from last year.
However, on a hike from Inspiration Wash to Clark Dry Lake on 13 February 2020, Mary Jo Churchwell reports that "wherever the mustard left room, [there] were patches of happy Astragalus crotalariae, some in bloom, and many small, happy Geraea canescens, some of them in bloom, plus here and there, a number of blooming regulars, what you would expect even on dry years, and at the lake's shoreline, one of my favorites, Cistanthe ambigua".
- As mentioned above, one usual wildflower hotspot, where the pavement ends on Di Giorgio Road and Coyote Canyon Road begins, has only exceptionally tiny plants amidst the dried vegetation from a year previously. See this pix taken on 12 February 2020.
However, Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen report that one of the best flower spots right now is Coyote Creek Road from Zeroth Crossing (about 0.7 miles north of the end of the pavement) to First Crossing.
- Beginning in the second week of February 2020, the landscape around Palm Canyon Drive in the western part of Borrego Springs was dotted with desert dandelion, Malacothrix glabrata, in bloom, looking very cheerful, with some plants of chuparosa, Justicia californica, blazing with red flowers nearby on S22. This bloom has kept getting better as of 26 February 2020. Yet as you drive southeast of Borrego Springs on Borrego Springs Road (S3), the dandelions mostly stop, and things look pretty dry.
The bloom has yet to really start at higher elevations, since it has been cold there. The bloom at 3000 feet is likely to start in mid-March or later, and might be quite brief.
What happened to the very promising start of the season, when we had double our normal rainfall in late 2019? The rain stopped. We didn't get the rainfall in January and February needed to convince the plants to keep growing larger before blooming. We have gotten little to no rain in many areas of the Borrego Desert since 28 December 2019. As a result, many of our annuals decided in early February that they needed to start blooming then, when they were still very small, since they were running out of water. Small plants produce few blooms, and may end their bloom suddenly if the weather turns warm.
Peak bloom is apparently better in the southern half of Anza Borrego Desert Park. Walt Fidler reported on 26 February 2020 that the plants in the Carrizo Creek area at and south of S22 were much bigger than plants in the Borrego Springs Area, and Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen reported that there were probably over 200 plants of five spot, Eremlache rotundifolia, in bloom in that area on 28 February 2020.
Unfortunately, Sahara mustard is making a comeback in many areas, and will choke out the wildflower bloom in those areas, such as roadsides along S22 east of Borrego Springs west of the Thimble Trail, and probably in the Borrego Dump area. One area near the eastern end of Henderson Canyon Road already went from nearly 100% native plants to nearly 100% non-native weeds in just two years from 2017 to 2019.
See Sahara Mustard Reduction in Numbers in the Borrego Desert Floor in 2015 for how wonderful it was immediately after the drought years. Sahara mustard still hasn't made a full, choking, comeback in some good wildflower areas.
Last year, we had excellent rain in a swath of areas on October 12 and 13, which produced good annual germination, which resulted in blooms beginning in December. That didn't happen this year. The late September rain was too early to germinate winter annuals on the desert floor, except in an extremely few isolated locations where water runoff was concentrated. The late September rain did germinate a lot of roadside annuals at higher elevations such as Culp Valley, mostly Sahara mustard.
See the reports and graph in Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen's 2019-2020 bloom report to see the actual progress of the bloom this year, and to get their timely reports of what they have seen on their almost-daily hikes.
The best source to look for places to hike that have flowers you might be interested in, is the crowd-sourced iNaturalist to pick places that have species that you are interested in. You can get almost daily updates on what is blooming, or not blooming, in the Anza-Borrego Desert, as well as where species were found. Click on "Filters" and select a date range to see the observations from that period. For example, here are all the observations on 1 February 2020 and later, including 1,396 observations from just the first 12 days of the month! Each observation gives the date and time of observation, and the latitude and longitude for each observation, which is plotted on a map for you so you can see where it was from.
If you find species at iNat that you are interested in seeing, you can search just for recent observations of those species, and go where you see the most observations. Here is an example from last year: if you had wanted to see ghostflowers in bloom in early March 2019, there were 43 observations posted between 20 February and 2 March 2019. Clicking on the "Map" tab shows there were six separate locations where observations have been posted.
Links to Other Webpages, etc. on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms
Anza-Borrego Wildflowers Bloom Report by Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen, often with daily wildflower updates.
iNaturalist observations in the Borrego Desert since 1 December 2019 (click on "Filters" to change the dates)
Wildflower Updates from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park official site, with wildflower information on it. When they start producing current wildflower reports, click on the link near the top with the word Update, which might be updated weekly.
DesertUSA Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Wildflower Reports
Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute Wildflowers (link will be supplied when they create their page this year) and their Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Wildflower Hotline: (760)767-4684. "Information on this recording is updated regularly."
Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline (Reports begin the first Friday in March)
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Updated 28 February 2020