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
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
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
southwestdesertflora.com website. Most of the blue links in
this entry go to that site for the the particular flowers I've observed.
The desert is full of yellow flowers in the spring! I'll
go by color and start with yellow first.
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.
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:
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:
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
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
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
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.
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
Above and below: two of many Palo
verdes on base
Above and below: Palo verdes
growing more wild at the S. Laguna Conservation Area
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.
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.
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
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
AMBROSIA SALSOLA aka CHEESEBUSH
I found this large shrub covered with a dense mat of white flowers in mid-March while walking around Yuma Proving Ground on our area of the base.
I wasn't able to identify it until July, 2019 when Gene Sturla from
SouthwestDesertFlora.com kindly wrote and told me what it is. Thank you,
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:
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:
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:
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 entry: Time 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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil