Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2012-2013

whispering bells, Emmenanthe penduliflora
Photograph of young plants of Emmenanthe penduliflora
Photograph of two germination classes of whispering bells, Emmenanthe penduliflora, taken on 11 February 2013 in a wash along the road to Glorietta Canyon. The larger plants on the right germinated from the 13 December 2012 rain, and thus are seen 60 days after that rain event. The smaller plants on the left germinated from the 26 January 2013 rain, and thus are seen 16 days after that rain event.

The inset shows a larger version of one of the younger plants that is actually out of sight to the left of the original picture. The white bars just indicate what its size would be in the original picture by referring to a similar younger plant.

Clearly, it will be a while before these plants start blooming. However, annual blooms have now begun in the lowest elevations of the Borrego Desert

See also Pictures shown here on prior dates.

See Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert for an introduction to this page, extensive general information (not specific to this year) about Annual Germination, Growth and Blooms, including what influences the duration and extent of the annual bloom, photo galleries, and links to other webpages giving information on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms.

Summary of Annual Germination, Growth and Blooms in 2012-2013

Although this year is the worst bloom year in the past five years that we have been tracking the bloom numerically, and the worst bloom year so far since the severe drought year of 2005-2006, there are still some areas that have good blooms now, and other areas that will have good blooms in the future. Annuals have begun blooming in decent numbers in the lowest elevations of the Park (at ~300 feet) in favored areas such as the Elephant Tree Natural Area, and probably in similar favored low-elevation areas on the north side of the Fish Creek and Vallecito Mountains.

On our trip to the Elephant Tree Natural Area on 22 February 2013, we found at least 987 plants of 39 species in bloom on this part of our trip! (See the list of species in bloom there.) Although this is much lower than seen there on trips in previous year, we had no complaints about the number of plants in flower, perhaps because our expectations for this year were so low.

For comparison, three years ago, on 4 March 2010 in the same area, we saw at least 4,000 plants of 80 species in bloom, with many species having thousands of individuals in bloom, far beyond the limit of 99 per species used in computing the total number of plants in bloom. But not every year can be a better-than-average bloom year, no matter how much we'd like that to be the case.

At hgher elevations, annual germination has occurred in at least a few places in the washes and canyons on the western edge of the desert. In some places, the baby annuals are quite abundant. But in many places, there are still no baby annuals, so there will be no annual bloom in those places without further rainfall.

Germination and blooms everywhere in the Borrego Desert have been delayed due to late and light rainfall, along with a long stretch of unusually-cold temperatures. (See the inch-thick ice found below Big Spring at about 2500 feet elevation on 17 January 2013!)

As of 22 February 2013, the town of Borrego Springs has received just 1.9 inches since 1 October, compared to 3.5 inches in the 2010-2011 season. As a result, many areas, such as the hillsides above the Montezuma Grade of S22, still mostly look like they do in late summer, completely dormant. Most lower-elevation hillside areas, the Badlands, and the desert floor, may have essentially no blooms this year.

But a number of washes and canyons have abundant young not-yet-flowering plants of whispering bells, Emmenanthe penduliflora; white fiesta flower, Pholistoma auritum var. arizonicum; and common phacelia, Phacelia distans, a promise of blooms to come, for at least those three annual species. In fact, we don't recall seeing so many whispering bell plants in past years. Conditions must have been optimal this year for that species.

See also:

Predictions for This Year

At minimum, there will probably be decent flowers from three annual species in some of the canyons on the west side above the desert floor.What kind of bloom is produced now depends on whether we get further rain, and temperatures. With no further rainfall, and if the temperatures go into the 80s and stay there, which has happened at this time of year in the past, blooms will be few, and will end quickly. With further rainfall, and continued mild temperatures, which has also happened in some other past years, the annual display could be good in a number of places, at least for three species.

However, temperatures usually begin climbing in mid-March, with heat spells likely. With the low amount of rain received so far, even moderate heat spells might cause the blooms to be few, and end quickly.

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Copyright © 2008-2013 by Tom Chester, Kate Harper, and Mike Crouse.
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Updated 22 February 2013