The Mojave Desert got a generous supply of precipitation this past winter and early spring, with a number of prolonged rainstorms. Winter rains promise bountiful growth of desert perennials, like creosote, indigo bush, beavertail, and sunray. The later (spring) rains benefit the desert annuals like blazingstar, desert chicory, and desert dandelion.
It’s March already, and the wildflower season is in full swing. In fact, if you haven’t gotten out to see the show by now, you’d best do it promptly, because in April it starts to get hot. Consider Death Valley, where it is the lowest and hottest. Because of the vast open expanse of this national park, carpets of mostly yellow will take your breath away.
The spring greening of the desert usually starts with a slight tonal change in the surface of the ground. The foothills and mountains take on a light green hue, then it grows darker and fuller until the land is covered in greenish-gray and blooms of every color. The metamorphosis begins at lower elevations and on south-facing slopes, where it warms up first. Soon flowers cover the natural landscape, spotty in some places, continuous in others.
I’ve noticed that the earliest blooms include brittlebush and desert globemallow. It’s interesting to note that the desert tortoise times its emergence from underground with the blooming of the globemallow, one of its favorite foods. And here in the desert, if Mojave Max comes out of his burrow, you can be sure it’s spring.
Other Mojave blooms include desert marigold, scorpionweed, paintbrush, sand verbena, milkvetch, penstemon, monkey flower, desert alyssum – the list goes on and on.
If you’re the type that needs to put a name to every flower, there are an abundance of desert flower field guides out there. Depending on your skill and interest levels, you can key them out from pencil drawings, or go straight to matching photographs. The biggest problems I have with identification are those “darn yellow Asteraceae” (d.y.a.s, according to Dr. Wes Niles of the UNLV herbarium named after him). There are so many yellow daisies out there, it is difficult to tell them apart.
You can follow the wildflower bloom here. Some of the public land websites (national parks and forests) also provide bloom information. Look for wildflower art workshops, too. A terrific poster by local artist Sharon Schafer is available here:
Just a reminder on safety and etiquette: watch where you’re driving and if you feel you need to go slowly to look at the blooms, it’s better just to pull off the road – but watch out for sand traps. Make sure you take the supplies you’ll need and don’t wander too far unless you know where you are going and are well-prepared. Finally, please don’t pick the flowers! Desert wildflowers are not like the weeds back east – their populations can’t withstand the removal of blooms – it’s the seed source for next year’s or even the next decade’s flowers. Pictures last longer.
Margie B. Klein is a freelance writer, nature lover, and retired environmental educator who’s lived in Las Vegas since the ’90′s. Follow her on Twitter @NatureWriterVgs.