There's a pretty simple formula for a great wildflower season: several rains, widely spaced. Southern California received the needed rains but it also was dealt some weather wild cards (remember those cold snaps?) this winter that have made bloom predictions almost impossible.
"We're in a holding pattern," says Lorrae Fuentes, a longtime botanic educator who compiles weekly wildflower reports for the Theodore Payne Foundation's Wildflower Hotline. By that she means warmer temperatures that could favor wildflower blooms, particularly in the high desert, are just starting to play out.
At the moment, only spotty patches of poppies have bloomed along the trails of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. And Anza Borrego Desert State Park reports a good but not great showing so far of flowers in low desert areas.
"What we won’t see this year are the spectacular carpets of blooms," Fuentes says. "There will still be a lot of annuals and wildflowers, but you'll need to get out and walk around. You’ll see patches, but not carpets you can see from the car."
At Anza-Borrego, freezing temperatures in January badly damaged desert sunflowers that create showy flower fields. Here are some flower-worthy places to check out between now and the end of March. Note that shrubs and cactus blooms come later, in late March and into April.
-- Henderson Canyon Road north of Borrego Springs lacks the sunflowers but does have nice patches of sand verbena, lupine and dune primrose blooming.
--Take the 1.5-mile hike each way up Borrego Palm Canyon where desert dandelion, phacelias, Fremont pincushion, purple mat, chia and many others are on display.
--Drive two miles down Coyote Canyon Road (dirt road; good for all vehicles) to see desert dandelions, pincushion, sand verbena and even ocotillo.
--Drive a few miles into Hawk Canyon (dirt road, four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles recommended) to see scattered sand verbena and lupine.
Check out the park's Flower Map or call the visitor center at (760) 767-5311 for updates on blooms.
Despite the current lack of poppy blooms, the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center at the California Poppy Reserve opens Saturday and will remain open until May 8. It's a good place to learn about wildflowers and snap some close-ups of the poppies that have surfaced.
The center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; $10 fee. Check the reserve's website and wildflower hotline for updates: (661) 724-1180.