Heavy rains and favorable temperatures are raising hopes for a strong wildflower season in California’s deserts.
Desert gold, purple sand verbena and brown-eyed evening primrose are already popping up in Death Valley National Park, said park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg. “This is very early,” he said. “Usually, you don’t start to see flowers until later in February.”
As of Jan. 21, Death Valley had received nearly 4.5 inches of rain since July, more than twice its average. The rains included a destructive storm in August that killed two people and washed out park roads. In the two weeks after Christmas, 2.65 inches fell, the wettest period since the park began keeping track in 1911, Van Valkenburg said. Recent temperatures in the 70s have also been ideal for blossoms, he added.
At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego, “we have flowers in some places already,” said Fred Jee, supervising ranger. “The potential is there, but they haven’t popped yet.” Sand verbena and dune primrose were appearing at the northern end of DiGiorgio Road, he added. About 8 inches of rain fell on Anza-Borrego between July and Jan. 21. Although far short of a record, it’s more than average.
Both Van Valkenburg and Jee said nature’s fickleness made it impossible to forecast a banner season for spring annuals.
“You need a Ouija board,” Jee said. “The weather and winds and all these uncertainties can play havoc with predictions.”
He should know. Last March, good rains encouraged Jee to predict the best flower season in five years. But it turned out to be only “fair to poor,” he said, after 90-degree temperatures and a caterpillar invasion laid waste to the bounty. “The heat just wilted everything like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.
A cold snap, heavy winds or a dry spell could also inhibit the bloom, Van Valkenburg said. He added that if present trends continued, the flowers in Death Valley’s lower elevations might peak in mid-March, rather than the usual late March or early April.
Rangers suggest stopping by the visitor center before heading out to view wildflowers. The desert parks are so vast that even in a good year, visitors need to know where to look for flowers. Park staff can help.
For updates on Death Valley, visit www.nps.gov/deva or call (760) 786-3200. (Check also for road closures because some routes, such as California 190, are still undergoing repairs from floods.) For Anza-Borrego, visit www.anzaborre go.statepark.org or call (760) 767-4684 (wildflower hotline) or (760) 767-5311 (general information).