Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2020-2021
Table of Contents
Latest Summary of Bloom Status
Bloom Reports from Individual Hikes This Season
Links to Other Webpages on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms
Background Information for Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert
Older Bloom Reports from 2009 to present
Fig. 1. Unusual pink-flowered versions of two species that normally have white flowers, from Hornblende Canyon on 5 March 2021.
Top: Mirabilis laevis var. retrorsa, Bigelow's desert four-o'clock. The camera was a bit over-enthusiastic about deepening the color; these were pink in the field to the eye. But the camera produced a stunning photograph with its colors.
Bottom: Prunus fremontii, desert apricot.
All photos by Don Rideout. Click on the photos to go to Don's iNat observation for each plant.
Latest Summary of Bloom Status
Summary as of 9 March 2021
- Lower elevations of the Borrego Desert are now essentially in full bloom, such as it is.
- This is a poor rainfall year, which has resulted in a poor flower year in most places of the Borrego Desert. There are no plants of any annual species at all on the desert floor in the Borrego Springs area, from Second Crossing of Coyote Creek and east, since there has been essentially no rain on the desert floor this season. If you hike on the desert floor, including all the normal hot spots for flowers like along Henderson Canyon Road and Coyote Creek Road, you will probably only see fewer than ten species in bloom.
- As is typical in poor rainfall years, there are flowers in some places west of Borrego Springs, but usually in small numbers scattered over a large area. Canyons and roadsides have the best flowers. In most places, it is a Treasure Hunt to find a large number of species in bloom. You will not find many species in bloom at any given spot along the roadside.
- There are some places that are quite rewarding for flowers as long as you don't expect to be overwhelmed with flowers from a superbloom. The three best areas for flowers now are (click on the "Map" tab at the links to see a map of the area where flowers have been reported; the links may return more observations if you click after 8 March):
- The S2 / lower Box Canyon / Mason Valley / Rainbow Canyon area, which has 226 observations of 66 species in bloom posted at iNat between 15 February and 9 March.
- Borrego Palm Canyon, which has 132 observations of 55 species in bloom posted at iNat between 15 February and 9 March. See also the list of 42 native species observed in bloom on 1 March, with a link to iNat posts from the day, and with the number of plants of each species in bloom given.
- The southernmost part of ABDSP (terminus of Dos Cabezos Road to the vicinity of Indian Hill) is also rewarding for flowers from hundreds of Prunus fremontii, 25 plants of Asclepias albicans, many ocotillo and Thamnosma, and some plants of Penstemon clevelandii in glorious full bloom.
- The total number of iNat flower reports between 15 February and 9 March are 687 observations of 150 species in bloom. Click on the "Map" tab at the link and you can zoom into the map to see where the reports are. Once you zoom into a given area, click on the "Redo search in map" to find out how many flower observations there are in your zoomed area. Each observation gives the date and time of observation, and the latitude and longitude for each observation, which is plotted on a map so you can see where it was from (note that rare species have obscured coordinates).
Clearly, the flowers are out there if you go to the right places and work at seeing them. Many of these species in bloom are represented by only a single individual in most places.
- Many flattish areas west of Borrego Springs (Scissors Crossing Area; Blair Valley Campground Area) have just sparse germination of mostly non-native weeds.
Further Information as of 8 March 2021
Outside of washes, nearly all of the desert floor looks (and is) bone dry, with most plants still looking as if it were late summer.
However, in at least some washes with deep sand, the shrubs look amazingly good, with some plants of the usual suspects of cheesebush, chuparosa, and desert lavender flowering as if it had rained; see the lower picture in Fig. 1 of the 16 February 2021 bloom report. In fact, they are probably flowering from rain that came in late April when we had a widespread two inch rain, producing large runoff flows in the washes. The water from that even has been stored in the sand since then, and was mostly unused then by the same shrubs since they were already going into their summer dormant mode.
In contrast, places where plants were used to having running water, such as Second Crossing, look terrible; see the top of the 2 February 2021 bloom report.
In the desert transition zone above and west of the desert floor, plants look happier, and annuals have been blooming in some places since mid-February. However, it is mostly a Treasure Hunt to find them; many annual species have only a few individuals present. In a good bloom year, we would have thousands of plants of 80 species of annuals in bloom at this time. The culprit this year once again is the lack of rain. Nearly every place in the desert transition zone has received less than half their normal rainfall, so it won't be a good year in the desert transition zone, either. But there still should be plenty of flowers to enjoy. Our native plants are often amazing in how they can bloom on what seem like meager amounts of water.
On 1 March 2021, Montezuma Grade had about 90 plants of Encelia farinosa in bloom, along with about 20 plants of creosote. However, only a single Encelia plant was showy, covered with blooms. All the others had just a straggly stalk or two with a small number of flowers. There were only a few other species in bloom on the Grade: a few plants of Trixis californica in good bloom, and some plants of Acmispon glaber. Many of the Encelia plants along the Grade are still in their late summer dead-looking form, and will not bloom this year.
Bloom Reports from Individual Hikes This Season
The latest bloom reports are given first (i.e., the reports are in inverse order of time).
7 March 2021. Diana Lindsay reports she and companions did the Rainbow Canyon / Box Canyon loop, and found a great variety of blooms, which mostly were far apart except for an abundance of Prunus fremontii and Amsinckia intermedia. Blooms were concentrated in Rainbow Canyon and from Box Canyon back to the Borrow Pit on S-2. Blooms were sparse on the descent into Blair Valley, in the valley, and down to Box Canyon. Upper part of Box Canyon had juniper and jojoba. See Alan King's photos from that trip.
5 March 2021. Tom Chester and Don Rideout report finding a total of at least 570 plants of 32 native species in bloom, counting at most 99 plants for each species, in a hike of Hornblende Canyon. For most of those species, it was a Treasure Hunt, with flowers of most species few and far between. But not for Prunus fremontii and Amsinckia intermedia! The lowermost two miles of this canyon were lined with these plants in bloom. The Amsinckia gave us nice patches of yellow-orange color throughout, but the Prunus gave us spectacular blooms throughout, as well as a lovely fragrance. A special treat was Ziziphus parryi in bloom near our turn-around point, with its heavenly fragrance. See Don's iNat posts from his entire day, which included three stops in the San Felipe Valley, 58 observations of 46 taxa.
1 March 2021. Tom Chester reports seeing a total of at least 978 plants in bloom (counting a maximum of 99 plants in bloom for any species) of 42 native species in Borrego Palm Canyon along the Main Trail and the Alternate Trail. The list contains the numbers of plants in bloom for each species, the usual links to the Jepson Manual, Calphotos, and Fred and Carla's pages, plus links to an iNat observation from Borrego Palm Canyon for each species. See also all 62 iNat observations of these 42 species.
Tom also reports that Montezuma Grade had about 90 plants of Encelia farinosa in bloom, along with about 20 plants of creosote. However, only a single Encelia plant was showy, covered with blooms. All the others had just a straggly stalk or two with a small number of flowers. There were only a few other species in bloom on the Grade: a few plants of Trixis californica in good bloom, and some plants of Acmispon glaber. Many of the Encelia plants along the Grade are still in their late summer dead-looking form, and will not bloom this year.
25 February 2021. Walt Fidler reports "There is local germination at the south end of the Volcanic Hills & the north end of Piedras Grandes. There are many places with baby green plants every few inches on the ground. I couldn't identify the species, but it wasn't a common weed like Erodium cicutarium".
25 February 2021. Mary Jo Churchwell found a few more annuals in bloom scattered here and there in Borrego Palm Canyon: Diplacus bigelovii = Mimulus bigelovii, Bigelow's monkeyflower; and Malacothrix glabrata, desert dandelion. She found a 3 inch tall Physalis crassifolia, thick-leaved ground cherry, in full bloom! A dozen or so Mirabilis laevis var. retrorsa, Bigelow's desert four-o'clock, were striking and in full bloom, and many of the Fouquieria splendens, ocotillo, were in splendid bloom and very green.
24 February 2021. Walt Fidler hiked from the terminus of Dos Cabezos Road westward to the vicinity of Indian Hill and reports "Hundreds of Prunus fremontii were in full bloom and most of the 25 Asclepias albicans plants seen were in bloom. Many ocotillo and most of the Thamnosma were in full bloom. But the highlight of the bloom was Penstemon clevelandii^2 in glorious full bloom up in the rocks. During the hike I saw my first blooming Porophyllum gracile plants of the season."
Walt added "There were zillions of bees buzzing around each Prunus plant throughout the day. I could hear where plants were in places hidden from view by gigantic boulders"!
23 February 2021. Tom Chester posted 49 observations of 35 native species in bloom from his hike in Rainbow Canyon and one roadside stop along S2 near Oriflamme Road.
19 February 2021. Mary Jo Churchwell reports that there are a variety of native annuals just beginning to bloom in Borrego Palm Canyon. Most conspicuous in bloom is Pholistoma membranaceum, white fiesta flower. Phacelia distans, common phacelia, is abundant and just starting to bloom. A patch of Amsinckia, fiddleneck, is in full bloom. A number of other native annuals have just one or a few plants seen in bloom so far, including Eulobus californica = Camissonia californica, California suncup; Eschscholzia minutiflora, small-flowered poppy; Camissoniopsis pallida, pale suncup; and Camissonia claviformis = Chylismia claviformis, brown-eyed primrose.
19 February 2021. Tom Chester reports finally seeing native annuals in bloom from S2 / Lower Box Canyon! He posted 44 observations of 30 native species in bloom from a 4.5 mile hike.
15 February 2021. Tom Chester and Don Rideout report 17 species in bloom in a 7 mile loop hike on the south and middle fork of Palm Wash. This relatively high number of species in bloom (for this year out in the desert proper) was entirely unexpected by either of them. The plants in bloom were almost solely in the washes, and we speculate they were able to bloom from water storage in the sand from the two inches of rain that fell here in late April 2020, and the resulting stream flow. The plants didn't use that water during the summer since they were dormant, and waited until now to start making good use of that stored water.
Tom reports that Montezuma Grade had about 50 plants of Encelia farinosa in bloom, along with 15 plants of creosote. However, only a single Encelia plant was showy, covered with blooms. All the others had just a straggly stalk or two with a small number of flowers. There were no other noticeable blooms on the Grade.
10 February 2021. Tom Chester and Don Rideout did a 7.5 mile loop trip along the Pinyon Wash Road, from its junction with Nolina Wash to its end, and found just four species in bloom, with only a handful of plants of each species in bloom except for larger number of chuparosa in bloom.
9 February 2021. Walt Fidler reports "a little annual germination has finally started in the Carrizo Creek area. The most common baby is Pholistoma membranaceum, but there are also some Phacelia distans, Emmenanthe, Erodium cicutarium, Salvia columbariae, and Eulobus.
8 February 2021. RT Hawke reports:Just back from our first Anza trip. Just like you, are observing no annuals. Palm wash had soil moisture, 11 species in bloom (very few flowers). Some plants were very happy like cheese bush, but other species still look like they are drought dormant. Glorietta canyon had 4 species in bloom (one lyre pod). It also had a lot of soil moisture. One individual of Hyptis was in full bloom, but most still looking like the changeover from drought stress. Crossosoma was still dormant, whereas in Whitewater canyon, all plants have new green leaves and are covered in buds. The ocotillos were leafed out in Glorietta- especially upper canyon.
5 February 2021. Walt Fidler reports there was no germination seen in his five days of hiking at the southern end of the Park from 1 to 5 February 2021, including at Bow Willow, Mountain Palm Springs, and Carrizo Creek.
5 February 2021. Don Rideout and Tom Chester did a 5.5 mile loop on the Mescal Bajada, up Mine Wash Road from SR78 to its mile 2.1, then across the alluvial fan to Chuckwalla Wash, down Chuckwalla Wash and then back to the cars. That area was bone dry, with no annuals, and with nearly every plant looking just like they did last fall. We struggled to eventually find just four species in bloom. Don found a single blooming Mammy dioica out of over 80 plants (none of the rest even had buds); a single blooming Hyptis = Condea; a single blooming ocotillo; and we saw perhaps 30 or 40 plants of Justicia with blooms.
1 February 2021. Don Rideout did a several mile hike in Tubb Canyon and Loki Canyon, finding ten species in bloom, including the first Mammillaria dioica of the season.
31 January 2021. Tom Chester and Don Rideout hiked a 4.5 mile loop from the Alcoholic Pass Trailhead, and found just five species in bloom, with just one or a few plants of each species except ocotillo, which had about 30 plants in bloom.
30 January 2021. Don Rideout hiked about two miles in the Horse Camp Area just northwest of Borrego Springs, and found just four species in flower.
21 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a three mile loop at the southern end of Borrego Springs, near the first 90° curve of Borrego Springs Road, and found only a handful of species in bloom.
15 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a five mile loop east of Vallecito County Park, finding few species in bloom. But Tom observed some nice native annual germination in Mason Valley just south of Box Canyon.
11 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a four mile loop from S22 / Palo Verde Wash, north outside of the wash, east to just short of Smoke Tree Wash, south to Palo Verde Wash, and back by Palo Verde Wash. There were just five species in bloom.
4 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a six mile loop from the Villager Peak Trailhead, up to the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, and then around Lute Ridge. There were no plants blooming in most areas (see Fig. 1 of the 8 January 2021 bloom report). The sandy areas near Lute Ridge contributed a total of 24 plants of eight species in bloom.
30 December 2020. Tom Chester hiked a seven mile loop at the southeast base of Coyote Mountain, and found just 22 plants of five species in bloom.
26 December 2020. Don Rideout botanized the lowermost 3.5 miles of Nolina Canyon and Pinyon Canyon, and found six species in bloom. Five of those species had just a few plants in bloom, but there were still a hundred or so plants of Ericameria paniculata in bloom.
22 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 4.5 mile loop on the north side of Borrego Mountain, west of Buttes Pass Road, and found about 40 plants of 11 species in bloom.
18 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 4.5 mile loop of two tributaries of San Felipe Creek east of Borrego Springs Road, and found the best bloom of any area so far this year: 18 species in bloom, with hundreds of plants of Dicoria, Palafoxia, and Psorothamnus emoryi in bloom. The other species had one to 15 plants in bloom.
14 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized an 8 mile loop of two tributaries of San Felipe Creek east of Borrego Springs Road, and found 15 species in bloom, with hundreds of plants of Dicoria, Palafoxia, and Psorothamnus emoryi in bloom. The other species had one to ten plants in bloom.
9 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 5 mile loop in Cactus Valley, finding just three species in bloom.
4 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized an 8 mile loop in San Felipe Creek below The Narrows, finding 13 species in bloom. The surprise was finding 30 plants in bloom of ground-cherry, Physalis crassifolia, and 15 blooming plants of Palafoxia. The other species had one to ten plants in bloom.
30 November 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 5 mile loop just east of Yaqui Flat, finding the usual six species in bloom, with 44 total plants in bloom.
25 November 2020. Don Rideout and Tom Chester hiked separately in the area east of Yaqui Flat and north of SR78, doing somewhat different loops. Don found four species in bloom in his hike: Ditaxis lanceolata, Eriogonum inflatum, ocotillo and chuparosa. Tom found six species in bloom: 10 plants of Ericameria paniculata (see Fig. 1), and one plant of Eriogonum wrightii var. nodosum, Fouquieria splendens, Justicia californica, Peritoma arborea, and Stephanomeria pauciflora.
24 November 2020. Don Rideout reports five species in bloom, Ditaxis lanceolata, Ditaxis neomexicana, Eriogonum inflatum, ocotillo, and chuparosa, in an unnamed canyon north of Dry Canyon, at the bottom end where it meets the valley floor.
23 November 2020. Don Rideout reports only a single species in bloom in Borrego Palm Canyon up to the alternate trail, Eriogonum inflatum. There was limited germination of a few annual species, Phacelia distans and Brassica tournefortii.
22 November 2020. Don Rideout reports seeing three species in bloom (ocotillo, chuparosa, and desert lavender) in a short hike up Dry Canyon from the bottom.
11 November 2020. Tom Chester reports only two species in bloom in Hellhole Canyon up to mile 2.0, five plants of Eriogonum inflatum and a single plant of Peritoma arborea.
Links to Other Webpages on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms
Anza-Borrego Wildflowers Bloom Report by Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen, often with daily wildflower updates.
All iNaturalist observations in the Borrego Desert since 1 March 2021 (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 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 9 March 2021