2016  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT

 

   
 
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   COLORFUL SPRING DESERT FLOWERS IN
    FAR SW ARIZONA & SE CALIFORNIA

FRIDAY, MARCH 18

 
"Arizona's rainy season runs from late December through mid-January, setting the stage   
for profuse wildflower blooms as early as February in the deserts . . . Flower bloom depends
on the amount of rainfall the plants received over the winter, but in some spots around
the state you can reliably see spring color even when rainfall is on the scant side."
 
 
 

One of the nicest things about wintering in far southwestern Arizona is that you can see some flowers in bloom at any time, not just in residential and commercial landscapes but also growing wild out in the deserts.

This winter we lived at Desert Breeze RV Park on Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) from October 25 to March 20, almost five full months. On our daily hikes and/or bike rides we could enjoy flowers not only on base, but also in the nearby conservation areas and the public lands surrounding the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area.


Ant crawling on a Beavertail cactus flower

We did have some rain during the winter, enough to bring out more flowers in the spring but not enough to dampen the spirits of any of us "snowbirds" who wanted all the sunny days Yuma's Chamber of Commerce promises!

We noticed a difference in what was blooming when we got back from our unexpected weeklong trip to Montana in early March. It was fun the last two weeks of our stay at YPG to go out everyday and see what was new.


Busy bee on a Brittlebush

In this entry I will showcase photos of flowers I took during the time we've been living here this winter, with an emphasis on what is blooming this spring.

I'll identify what I can. I found the best information and easiest way to identify the plants on the southwestdesertflora.com website. Most of the blue links in this entry go to that site for the the particular flowers I've observed.

DESERT MARIGOLD

The desert is full of yellow flowers in the spring! I'll go by color and start with yellow first.

These flowers in the aster-sunflower family bloom in the Sonoran Desert from March to November. I just happened to get photos at both the end of one season in November and the beginning of another in March. The next two photos of this clump at the South Laguna Conservation Area are from March 13. The clump had only about half that many flowers in November.

 

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BRITTLEBUSH

There are several kinds of brittlebush. These bright yellow flowers bloomed on four- to six-foot tall shrubs at the South Laguna Conservation Area the whole time we were at Yuma Proving Ground but, like the desert marigolds, the shrubs had a lot more flowers in the spring than in the fall or winter.

Here are several photos of the shrubs that I took from October to March:

 

 

 

 

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YELLOW NIGHTSHADE AKA GROUND CHERRY

There are also several other common names for this low-growing wildflower that I found in mid-March near a desert wash on public lands surrounding the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area on the California side of the Colorado River:

 

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CALIFORNIA POPPY AKA DESERT GOLD

. . .  And several other names for this bright flower. In late February I found some single poppies growing next to clumps of blue Phacelia at the South Laguna Conservation Area in Arizona near YPG:

Those are really pretty when they grow en masse, covering patches of the desert, but there wasn't enough rain here before we left in late March to encourage that kind of growth. You can see a picture of what I'm describing at this poppy link.

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CREOSOTE BUSH

Creosote bushes at YPG and on the BLM lands near the Imperial Dam LTVA began blooming in mid-February and appeared to be at or near peak in mid- to late March this year. There are lots of additional pictures at this link.


In mid-February this creosote bush had only a few open
blooms and numerous green buds.

Above and below:  By mid-March, these creosote bushes on my favorite
overlook trail near the LTVA were full of bright yellow flowers.

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PALO VERDE

There are numerous Palo verde trees on base and the nearby South Laguna Conservation Area on the Arizona side of the Colorado River north of Yuma. We didn't notice any bright yellow blooms on them until early March when we came back from Montana. By the time we left on March 25 the trees were full of flowers:

Above and below:  two of many Palo verdes on base

 

Above and below:  Palo verdes growing more wild at the S. Laguna Conservation Area

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BUCKHORN CHOLLO

Many types of cacti bloom in the spring, including the chollo species.

The blooms I saw on several buckhorn chollas in March on the public lands outside the Imperial Dam LTVA started as purplish-pink buds and opened up to pretty orange or gold flowers:

 

 

Barrel cacti and prickly pears also have yellow or gold flowers but I didn't see any of those in bloom while we were in this area.

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 DESERT GLOBEMALLOW

White flowers in the desert aren't as obvious to see as yellow and gold ones but I did spot at least four different kinds.

I'm pretty sure the next photo shows a Globemallow. This species comes in many colors; this one is pinkish-white with a red center and the leaves look like the ones in the photos at this link. I photographed only one of these, in mid-February, in the California desert south of the Imperial Dam LTVA where I often hiked.

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GANDER'S CRYPTANTHA

I've never heard of this spreading plant with hairy bristles and tiny white five-lobed flower petals but it was pretty easy to identify with this website link. I found it the third week of February on base (Yuma Proving Ground) in a desert park that has a one-mile trail winding through it.

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SALT HELIOTROPE

These pretty white clusters with tiny individual flowers are in the Forget-Me-Not family. Although they are found in much of the USA and some Canadian provinces, they are new to me.

The leaves are a gray-green color. The flowers are bell-shaped with five lobes, and the throats are both yellow and purple on the same plant. I found a patch of these flowers at the South Laguna Conservation Area near YPG in mid-March:

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?? UNKNOWN ??

I thought this large shrub covered with a dense mat of white flowers would be easy to identify because the tiny white and green flowers are so unique. Alas, I haven't been able to find it on several different desert Southwest plant ID web sites. It may not be a wildflower, or maybe it's not a native plant. I found it in mid-March while walking around Yuma Proving Ground on our area of the base.

 

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CALIFORNIA FAGONBUSH

Like white flowers, blue ones aren't as common in the Sonoran Desert as yellow ones. I photographed just three blue wildflower species this spring.

I've never heard of the next flowering shrub but it was much easier to identify than the white shrub just above! The first photo is a young plant I discovered on a hike on public lands near the Imperial Dam LTVA in mid-February:

The second photo is a close-up from another shrub I saw during the same hike. That shrub was much larger and had more dense bloom:

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CLEFT-LEAF WILD HELIOTROPE

This member of the Phalecia family has several other common names, which you can see at this link. The three pictures below are from two different, widely-spreading plants in a natural desert park near the cantonment area at YPG. I took the photos the third week of February:

I'm not sure if the flowers bloom UP the hairy stem or DOWN the stem -- in other words, I don't know if the darker blue flowers are just starting to bloom or are past their peak:

This view looks straight down the stem instead of along it:

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ARIZONA LUPINE

I've seen lots of lupines in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska but I don't remember seeing any in Arizona before. Several kinds grow there, including this species. I saw it on the same day in February and in the same park at YPG as the Pacelias in the pictures above:

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OCOTILLO

I was seeing a lot of red-orange in the desert in February and March -- but I had to look UP to see it!

Ocotillos are one of the easiest plants to identify in the Sonoran desert because of their distinctive tall, slender, very thorny stems, which usually turn more green in the spring when they sport their bright red tubular clusters of flowers. These photos were all taken in the desert areas near the Imperial Dam LTVA:

The branches on this ocotillo are green (above);
the branches below are bare even though the flowers are blooming.

 


The tubular flowers on this stem haven't quite opened yet.


Flowers mostly open

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BAJA FAIRY DUSTER

These are the only true red flowers I photographed and they were in the residential area on base. You can see a good close-up of the delicate strands of the flowers at this link.

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AZALEAS

I saw azaleas only on base at YPG or in Yuma where they'd been planted in landscapes, not growing out in the wild. I'm including them here because 1) they bloom in the spring (February, at this latitude), 2) I saw no pink wildflowers in the area while we were here, and 3) azaleas are one of my favorite flowers!

These large bushes are at the entrance to the Heritage Center military museum on base:

 

I'm not sure about the identity of the pretty pink flowers in the next two photos.

They were also on base, near Cox Field, in a tall hedge with woody trunks like trees. They may be a type of azalea or rhododendron. I photographed them in mid-March, after the azaleas shown above had quit blooming.

 

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BEAVERTAIL PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

I saved some of the showiest spring desert flowers for last -- the bright pink and purple flowers of the beavertail cactus. They are scattered around the desert in the public lands south of the Imperial Dam LTVA and often planted in landscapes. I took all of these photos between the third week of February and mid-March. 

The beavertail with the most blooms I saw was planted between the entrance gate and our RV park at Yuma Proving Ground:

The next photos are from various beavertail cacti out in the desert a few miles away.

The blooms don't last very long. Sometimes I photographed the same cactus several times a few days apart, and each time a different number of flowers were open.


I kept going back to this one every few days to see how many flowers had opened up.


When I enlarged this photo of another Beavertail
I counted 16 buds that haven't opened yet.


There are four unopened buds to the right.


This picture shows several flower stages:  unopened (four buds on left),
just starting to open (lower right), and already done blooming (top right).

I thought the inside of this flower looked different (above) so I zoomed in
closer and look what I found (below) -- a bee covered in pollen!!

Catching spring wildflowers and cacti in bloom in the desert Southwest is a crap shoot at worst, an interesting challenge at best.

So much depends on the weather, especially the amount of rain that falls in a particular area at the right time during the winter. Too much rain and flower seeds get washed away. Too little rain and they languish and die.

Since this was our first time in this region in late February and March, we don't know if this was a good or poor year for wildflowers. I'm just happy that we could enjoy the ones that did bloom this spring. Folks who are really intent on catching various kinds of wildflowers at their peak need to check the websites that give that sort of information week by week or day by day.

Next entryTime to head farther west and see some new things! First up, Joshua Tree National Park and the Marine Corps RV park at 29 Palms, CA

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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