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Summer superbloom? Showy flowers pop in Mojave Desert

Yellow flowers cover the ground near Joshua trees and other cactus
Chinchweed covers a patch of the desert in late August in Joshua Tree National Park.
(Madena Asbell / Mojave Desert Land Trust)

No you aren’t seeing things. Some Southern California deserts are blooming right now. Yellow carpets of native chinchweed popped in parts of the Mojave Desert in late August.

Small plant with green spires and yellow flowers
Closeup of chinchweed, which is turning some parts of the desert yellow.
(Madena Asbell / Mojave Desert Land Trust)

“The late summer bloom is due to some areas receiving considerable rain in July and August,” Madena Asbell, director of plant conservation at the Mojave Desert Land Trust, wrote in an email.

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Summer monsoonal rains (which Asbell described as “spotty and unpredictable”) that drop as little as half an inch of rain can jumpstart germination of summer annuals such as chinchweed and fringed amaranth, which desert tortoises rely on for food. These plants only germinate when soil is warm and there’s ample rain.

Desert land with dark clouds above
A storm cell with dark clouds over the desert.
(Madena Asbell / Mojave Desert Land Trust)

“Like spring super blooms, there really is nothing ‘typical’ about [summer blooms], which is what makes them so special — it all depends on when, where, and how much rain falls,” Asbell wrote.

“I would say my jaw dropped,” Palm Springs artist Kenny Irwin Jr. told the Desert Sun. He was driving near Landers, Calif., when he saw a profusion of yellow flowers. “It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a super bloom in the middle of summer. It seemed to defy reality.”

Joshua Tree National Park spokesperson Hannah Schwalbe confirmed that chinchweed had popped a few weeks ago in White Tank, near the center of the park, but now has passed its peak. “I haven’t seen other blooms, but this time of year, I keep my eye out for bladderpod, fringed amaranth, and ocotillo blooms,” she wrote in an email.

Other recent blooms include a native grass called needle grama, brittle creosote, desert senna, Acton encelia or brittlebush, and big galleta grass. Some cactuses are blooming a second time.

Closeup of a plant called fringed amaranth
Fringed amaranth provides food for desert tortoises and other wildlife.
(Madena Asbell / Mojave Desert Land Trust)
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Spring is still the best time to see the widest variety of wildflowers. But summer brings different flowers that can be equally special. “The yellow chinchweed is impressive, but fringed amaranth is really showing off as well,” Asbell wrote.


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